Autobody shops team up against Country Mutual

Steve Gonzalez Dec. 20, 2004, 4:29am

Eight Illinois auto body shops and owners teamed up against Country Mutual Insurance Co. alleging the insurer's “calculated and malicious conduct” caused them a substantial loss of business.

The plaintiffs, who filed suit Dec. 15 in Madison County Circuit Court, claim that Country Mutual's guidelines and policies outline a deceptive and illegal practice of "steering" customers.

“Pursuant to this unlawful practice customers have been, and continue to be, steered away from using plaintiffs’ shops,” the complaint states.

Aljets Automotive, Knebel's Autobody Center, American Auto Body, Gass' Body & Chassis Service, Mick's Auto Body, Princeton Autobody, Randazzo's Gallery Collision Center and Styck's Body Shop seek punitive and compensatory damages.

Two of the plaintiffs--Aljets and Knebel's--are from Madison County. The others are from Macoupin, Sangamon, Montgomery, Bureau, Iroquois, and Ford counties.

If a customer selects a repair shop that is not a Country-referral shop or a shop that is not in good favor with Country, (Country) personnel take measures designed to steer and guide potential customers away, according to the suit.

“Defendants took such action and steered customers away from plaintiffs’ shops by methods including, but not limited to, representing to customers and potential customers that:

  • The customer should choose a different shop or the customer should reconsider their choice;

  • Plaintiffs’ work quality and ability to do proper repairs was less than satisfactory;

  • Any repairs made at plaintiffs’ shops would take an unusually long time to complete;

  • Plaintiffs’ prices for repairs were excessive.

    Represented by Jeffery Schultz of Belleville, Charles Barrett of Nashville Tenn. and Thomas Thrash of Little Rock, Ark., the plaintiffs’ claim Country mistreated them.

    "(Country) intended to act and did act to harass, annoy, injure, destroy or otherwise interfere with their reasonable business expectations by knowingly, intentionally and maliciously inducing, persuading, or enticing its insured and claimants to repudiate, cancel, refuse to contract, or transact business with plaintiffs," according to the complaint.

    “Defendant sent letters to plaintiffs’ existing and prospective customers which were intended to, and did, have the effect of discouraging business with plaintiffs."

    Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and Tortious Interference with Prospective Business Advantages.

    The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Philip Kardis in Granite City.

    04 L 1377

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