In response to numerous inquiries regarding the status of the Slander and Tortious Interference case Gunder’s Auto Center has against State Farm; we have filed our appellate brief and State Farm has filed their rebuttal and we are currently awaiting the courts ruling relative to a request for Summary Judgment presented in the matter. We anticipate success in this regard and to move forward to achieving the ultimate goal of “having our day in court."
This entire matter hinges on whether any insurer, including State Farm, can merely target a repairer and have the right to say anything they wish with the intent to harm the repairer and disparage their good name in an effort to interfere with the relationship between the repairer and their customer; so long as the insurer does not breach the legal limit referred to as “Expressed Malice”. It is my understanding that according to State Farm, this means they can say anything they wish about me and my company up to the extent that one is a “murderer” or “rapist” etc.!
As it was explained to me, it would appear that State Farm believes, because they are merely involved in payment of repair that they therefore have what is referred to as a “qualified privilege” and are free to say anything they wish to their insureds, including, but not limited to; “they do substandard work”, “they don’t have the equipment necessary to pass our inspection”, “they overcharge and you’ll have to pay the difference out of pocket” etc. without fear of recourse.
We firmly believe that insurers are not party to the contract of repair between a repairer and their customer and have no business interfering with that relationship.
This type of conduct should never have been considered a “privilege” or acceptable behavior by any individual or entity! These are nothing less than slanderous strong-arm tactics by bullies of our industry and we will not merely accept it or condone it as a normal business practice.
We are not alone in this issue as many repairers have heard the same or similar comments throughout the country, and not only by State Farm. So this issue isn’t merely about Gunder’s Auto Center vs. State Farm, it’s about what every honest and ethical repairer around the country who stands up against any abusive insurer for what is right and ethical. This is truly a David and Goliath matter and while we don’t anticipate actually slaying the giant, we anticipate the outcome to be successful in curtailing their predatory and abusive activities for all repairers.
Other litigation Gunder’s has against State Farm include smaller claims on behalf of our customers involving recovery of required repair procedures (P-Page) and paint and materials (P&M) costs which the insurer has refused to pay as not being within their “PCP” (prevailing competitive pricing) however we have learned that they [State Farm] are paying other shops in our market area for the very same things.
Over the last two years of presenting electronic data based material invoicing (utilizing PMC Logic) to every insurance company, only State Farm has refused Gunder’s Auto Center’s invoices while capping us at a set amount. We have learned through investigation and discovery that many other repairers in and around our market area are indeed being compensated by this insurer [State Farm] for the very same items and material costs which they are denying Gunders Auto Center. We are pursuing recovery via a Power of Attorney (POA) often referred to in our industry as “Assignment of Rights” or “Assignment of Proceeds.” We had similar issues with other insurers in the past of which our customers have prevailed in all. At this time we have approximately 30 such cases involving State Farm which will continue to develop and find their way in front of a judge and jury.
It’s important to note that the Slander and Tortious Interference litigation has not been without significant cost to me and my family, both economically and emotionally. It’s not for the weak-of- heart and I am not too proud to admit it has brought me to my knees financially.
Recently I read two great books, “Delay Deny and Defend,” and “Collision Collusion,” which describe what I am currently experiencing firsthand. The insurance industry can financially outlast almost anyone willing to challenge them in court. It usually is not about right and wrong, but about who has the deepest pockets.
As much as the insurer’s accusations and lies to my customers have pained me and my family personally, we understand this battle is not our own; we’re acting on behalf of those honest and ethical repairers across this great country who are confronted with the same issues on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and who are watching, hoping and praying for our success. Most are aware of the financial toll and it’s been discussed setting up a fund for financial contributions from those who are supportive of our efforts and who see our prevailing as a win for the industry at- large. By contributing what they can, they can be a part of the change this industry so desperately needs, and if we prevail, I’ve agreed to match whatever contributions were provided in our effort to be used as an industry legal fund to assist others in their efforts to level the playing field. We need to continue the effort to bring a fair balance to our industry.
We appreciate the thoughts, prayers and contributions of our industry brethren and suppliers across the country and please know that I am “all-in” and will continue to do my best to stop the strong-arm tactics that have and continue to plague our industry.
My sincere thanks to the industry media and its writers for their continued interest, unbiased coverage and thorough dissemination of the information in these issues. I leave you with a quote from M. Scott Peck:
“The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual - for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.”
Gunder’s Auto Center, Inc.