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Coccaro Details Repair Job that Led to Progressive Suit

Northstate Custom Auto Body owner Greg Coccaro told about the repair job that led to a three-year-plus lawsuit involving Progressive Insurance, and provided tips for avoiding—or at least protecting oneself—in such a situation during a presentation in Baltimore last night. The presentation, held at the Four Points Sheraton, was a part of a meeting conducted by the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association.

Coccaro's shop had repaired a 2004 Mercedes Benz for a customer the year the vehicle was purchased, after the customer had run over a rock wall and garden in her yard. When Progressive's estimate came in much lower than North State's, Coccaro advised the insured, who still wanted his shop to do the work based on its specialty in dealing with foreign high-end cars. Coccaro said he could do the work but she'd be responsible for the charges.

"I called the customer and said, you can take the car to a [direct-repair program] shop, which is what Progressive wants you to do, or you can pay me and you go after Progressive," Coccaro said. The job took four weeks and added up to more than $30,000.

"When it was all done, she says to me, 'Can't you do anything to make them pay?'" Coccaro added.

He offered to talk to the adjuster, who came out and asked to see the invoices, and asked a variety of questions such as, "Where's the [broken] glass? How do I know these parts are for this car?" Coccaro recalled. After that incident and several phone calls later, Coccaro recounted that he received a call from Progressive saying the company would pay the claim in full, and he received a check for $34,090, along with a post-estimate written detailing the work completed.

"The only thing I was concerned with was the bottom line," Coccaro said.

After six weeks passed, Coccaro received a summons and a complaint filed against him, alleging that the company had defrauded the company; had provided phony invoices; that Coccaro himself had directed a conspiracy to defraud Progressive; and had charged the plaintiff for non-existing damage.

"They wanted total damages, and treated it like I had done nothing to [fix] the car," Coccaro said.

Ultimately, after three years of discovery and other court dealings, the case went to trial, where the judge threw it out of court before it went to the jury, noting that it was "a [Progressive] business decision to pay North Star."

"My knees buckled and it was over," Coccaro said.

In speaking to an audience of other automotive repair shop owners, Coccaro warned, "If you don't protect yourself against all of the things that you don't understand, you're going to have a problem." He encouraged documentation and stressed the importance of researching call-recording laws and, if legal, to record calls with both insurers and customers, in an effort to protect a company in the case of a suit such as this one.

"It's not about what's right," he warned. "Anyone can sue you for anything."

Currently, Coccaro is involved in a suit of his own filing, also against Progressive; originally, steering was one of the accusations in the case, but he said it was removed as in New York, it's an offense that would be covered by state regulations. However, several causes of action remain in the case. These are: tortuous interference; engaging in deceptive business practices; and spreading injurious falsehoods about his business.

This case is still in the discovery mode.

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