Tuesday, 19 May 2015 00:00

Lead Lawyer for Plaintiffs Discusses New Developments in Multidistrict Litigation in FL

Autobody News spoke to John Eaves Jr. of Eaves Law Firm about the recent developments with the antitrust multidistrict litigation taking place in Florida, in which body shops across the country are alleging “steering” and other retaliatory practices by the nation’s top insurers.

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Eaves is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs on the case: A&E Auto Body, Inc., et al vs. 21st Century Centennial Insurance Company, et al. He said that during their regularly scheduled monthly hearing in May, Florida Magistrate Judge Thomas Smith suggested preparing a “bellwether” case to move the lawsuit along faster. Typically, in a bellwether trial the judge and parties select a representative sample from the parties involved to move the overall litigation toward a resolution.

The Jackson, Mississippi-based firm is currently preparing a motion to implement this type of trial. Eaves explained that this often happens in a mass tort case and will speed things up tremendously. After this is implemented, Eaves will continue to file cases brought on by body shops in additional states and a court date will be set. In the meantime, the firm has been collecting affidavits and specific information from body shops and former adjusters across the country to include as part of the injunction they are filing.

“We’ve been getting additional details from the shops; those kinds of details that show the collaboration within the insurance industry in order to oppress the shops collectively,” said Eaves. “We are 90 percent prepared to file an injunction to stop the steering and retaliatory practices of those body shops that we represent.”

He said that any shop owner or employee that has proof or evidence he or she would like to share can be added to this injunction, whether or not Eaves Law Firm is representing them.  

“We still want all we can get to make this a clear case to truly show the judge at the next phase what the shops are enduring,” said Eaves. Originally filed in February 2014, the antitrust suits were consolidated in August and now more than 500 auto body shops in 36 states are part of the multi-district litigation.

Earlier this year, Judge Gregory Presnell had dismissed a large portion of the federal lawsuits without prejudice, meaning they can be re-filed. This was followed by a dismissal of cases in Louisiana, Tennessee and Utah in April.

Eaves is currently rewriting the lawsuits to include more specific information from the shops.

Another recent development occurred in April when defendant Old Republic Insurance Company moved for entry of sanctions, including an award of attorneys’ fees and expenses against the plaintiffs for “…asserting frivolous claims unsupported by existing law and lacking in evidentiary support and for engaging in vexatious litigation for the improper purpose of harassing Old Republic and needlessly increasing the cost of litigation,” according to court documents.

In response, the plaintiffs stated that the “Defendants Motion for Sanctions is without legal or factual merit. It is effectively a regurgitation of arguments previously made and already ruled upon by the Court. The Motion fails to put forward any facts or authority to establish the allegations against Defendant are frivolous. Denied by Defendant? Yes. Frivolous? No.”

The plaintiffs went on to request that the Motion for Sanctions be denied.

Regarding Old Republic’s Motion for Sanctions, Eaves said “We don’t believe there is any merit. We have a good cause, and a good case and that is a standard defense attorney tactic that’s used. I think you’ll see pretty soon that the judge will not honor that request.”

Old Republic is represented by Fox Rothschild LLP and lawyers for the insurance company did not respond for comment. No decision had been made by Judge Presnell as of press time.

The next regularly scheduled hearing for the multi-district lawsuit is scheduled for Friday, June 5. Anyone with information that would like to share with Eaves Law Firm, should contact steve@eaveslaw.com

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