The MAK law firm has reported that, following a three-week jury trial, David Miller, an auto body shop owner who 10 years ago had been accused and then cleared of defrauding insurance companies, won a multi-million judgment against Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company and Amica Mutual Insurance Company on May 29.
According to his attorney, Michael Kelly in Providence, the jury returned a verdict that found that Metropolitan and Amica had both intentionally withheld vital information during the course of Miller’s criminal prosecution and that the companies were “liable for an abuse of process.”
This was a six-year litigation effort. Miller filed the lawsuit in 2006 after criminal charges brought against him by the Rhode Island State Police were dismissed by the Office of Attorney General, which had prosecuted the case.
Those charges dated back to 2002, when Miller was charged with several counts of obtaining money under false pretenses and insurance fraud. All charges were dismissed.
As far back as 20 years ago, Miller, who has since turned the Mendon Road shop over to two children, had been outspoken about what he considered unfair practices by the insurance industry.
Kelly said testimony and evidence presented during the three-week trial established that Miller had been a leading advocate for reform in news stories and testimony before the state legislature.
Miller had repeatedly said very publicly that insurance companies were short-changing auto body shops.
Said Kelly in a statement, “Miller’s dedicated involvement led to an extremely adversarial relationship with Metropolitan and Amica over several issues, including fixed labor rates paid to auto body shops in the state by insurance companies.
“Metropolitan and Amica sought to silence Mr. Miller by instigating charges against him.”
In 1992, at a time when insurance fraud was being charged in several auto body shops, a Journal columnist, Peter Phipps, highlighted Miller’s complaints saying that insurance companies, in Phipps’ words, “have pushed him into a position where he feels he has to either cheat them or to cheat his customers.”
Quoting Miller directly, the columnist wrote, “The way this business runs stinks.”
The column went on, “What makes Miller, 40, different from so many others is that he’s decided to stand up and fight for both his business and his morality.”
Phipps noted that Miller filed against insurance firms in search of added payment.
In a November 1999 Journal article, Miller is quoted as telling a legislative commission that relationships between auto repair shops and insurance companies “border on racketeering,” with insurance companies in total control. “There is no protection for the consumer,” he said then.
Kelly noted this week, “In an unusual result, the jury assessed punitive damages against Metropolitan and Amica in the amount of $1.25 million dollars, finding that they had acted with malice and bad faith, and with such willfulness, wickedness, or recklessness that amounts to criminality, which for the good of society and warning to the defendant, ought to be punished.”
From Amica, Miller was awarded $949,544.66 plus interest of $559,405 for a total $1,508,950.
And from Metropolitan, $1,199,544 plus $559,405 for a total $1,758,950.
The award covers all of the legal costs Miller incurred in defending against the prosecution after the criminal charges were filed, plus the $600,000 from each company in damages for emotional distress “caused by the abuse of process,” said Kelly.