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Wednesday, 21 December 2011 21:36

Progressive Decides Not to Appeal in Fraud Case Against Bedford Hills, NY, Shop

A six-year long fraud case filed against Bedford Hills, NY’s North State Custom by Progressive Insurance seems to be coming to an end at last. Attorneys for Progressive in September notified the court and counsel for the shop that the company did not intend to proceed with an appeal.

“We don’t know exactly why they decided not to appeal, but I’m certainly happy they did,” said North State owner Greg Coccaro.

In 2005, the customer, a handicapped professor from Columbia University, asked Coccaro to repair her 6-month-old 2004 Mercedes E320 that she had rolled down an embankment and crashed into a pile of rocks. Progressive Insurance wrote an on-site initial estimate of $7,142. Once the car was taken to Coccaro’s shop—which was not a Progressive DRP (Coccaro has no DRPs)—he found far more damage in addition to mistakes on the original estimate. According to Coccaro, Progressive eventually wrote another estimate for $26,804, then a third one for $18,000 after a desk review reduced that second estimate, and then another. All told there were some 10 estimates done. Coccaro’s final carefully-documented invoice for the full repair came in at $34,091.

Progressive then tried to recall the car from Coccaro after repairs had commenced and steer it to one of their select shops but was unsuccessful in convincing the customer. When the second estimate came in at $26,804, the customer confirmed she wanted North State to do the job, she agreed to pay any expenses beyond the $26,804. Progressive finally agreed to pay Coccaro’s invoice after the customer’s son, who had a relationship of sorts with the insurer, became involved.

The first fraud trial was pressed by Progressive Insurance against Coccaro in New York, and was dismissed by State Supreme Court Judge Mary Smith on August 5, 2008. Significantly, the case was dismissed “with predjudice”—meaning the court barred Progressive from filing another case on the claim, effectively ending Progressive’s options—and the judge acted before the defense could call a single witness, however this ruling was successfully appealed by Progressive who argued that the judge lacked this latitude in the case.

Progressive continued to allege that Coccaro committed fraud in the repair of the Mercedes. In the prior trial, Progressive attempted to recoup over $70,000—the cost of repairs and the amount paid to total loss the car.  In 2010, Progressive argued that it should be entitled to recover the entire $34,091 paid for repairs.  In both cases, however, Progressive’s expert witness testified that he was only able to detect $2,808.65 of “improper” charges. Coccaro’s legal team of Michael G. Santangelo, Erica L. Eversman, and Anthony J. Mamo, Jr. estimates that Progressive ultimately spent over one million dollars to prosecute the claim of $2,800 and change.

Coccaro has said in the past, “I believe they’re out to punish me for speaking out. They want to make an example out of me for anyone else who would do the same thing.”

Progressive appealed the judge’s decision, and the case went before a jury again in 2010. Coccaro prevailed for a second time, and in March 2011 Progressive notified the court that it intended to appeal the most recent decision to the New York Supreme Court.

While Coccaro says he is glad to finally be vindicated, his victory came at a steep price—including nearly half a million dollars in legal fees.

“What they’ve tried to do from the beginning is run me out of money,” Coccaro said. “They have dragged this out and tried to wear me down.”

Coccaro credits the support he received from his family, his wife Marlene, and his attorneys for his ability to see the case through. He also noted that directors of a number of state and national associations helped significantly, specifically Charles Bryant of the New Jersey Alliance of Automotive Service Professionals (AASP); Bob Skrip and Tom Bivona of the Connecticut Autobody Association; Jordan Hendler of the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association; Ed Kizenberger and Mike Orso of the New York State Auto Collision Technicians Association (NYSACTA); and Aaron Schulenburg of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists.

He also received support and encouragement through donations to his legal defense fund from a number of shop owners across the country.

Coccaro’s suit was reduced from $40M to $15M after Progressive attorneys successfully argued that NY law does not allow an insurance company to be sued for steering.

When Coccaro’s suit against Progressive was filed, the NYSACTA was quick to support him. At the time, Orso, President of NYSACTA said, “We all know the tricks and games that are being played by a majority of the insurance companies, their appraisers and adjusters. The inside information obtained in this lawsuit only confirms our suspicions...”

“It’s not about the money,” Coccaro said at the time. “It was never about the money. I just couldn’t stand by and watch them destroy my reputation and the business I worked hard to create. If they could do this to me, they could do this to anyone.”

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