On November 17, a superior court jury in Stamford returned a 15 million dollar verdict in favor of the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (and three other auto body repair shops) arising out of claims againt the Hartford for unfair trade practices. The case docket goes back to 2003 and was filed based on claims that the Hartford was supressing auto body labor rates by steering customers to preferred appraisers and auto body shops.
The website search-autoparts.com provided some insights into the case stating that the claims were supported by "extensive documentation including internal memoranda detailing company policies, as well as several depositions by company employees." In addition to the 15 million dollar verdict, the Association is now looking to obtain injunctive relief, and potentially punitive damages according to a article in the Hartford Courant by Kenneth Gosselin. According to an article by Rob Varnon on newstimes.com the problem started when the Association believed that customers with damaged cars were being steered to preferred shops with lower rates according to terms of the insurance company, not the customer.
The Auto Body Association of Connecticut has taken issue with the practices of appraisals and auto body repair rates for years now. At one time, even before this current case, I represented one of several independent appraisal companies sued by the Association seeking discovery of documents related to the same set of issues. Our group of defendants was successful in defending the discovery lawsuit, but it was clear then that the Association intended to bring additional claims. The Attorney General is also getting into the dispute now seeking federal intervention after having sided with the Association in the past.
The Hartford intends to continue defending its appraisal and repair program on appeal and with post trial motions. The Hartford stated "we are disappointed with the verdict and plan to appeal. We remain confident that our auto-body repair program is fully consistent with Connecticut law . . ."
This litigation seems far from over. Only time will which side will eventually prevail.