Google and GoDaddy.com have been pulled into an antitrust litigation in Florida which could have implications on the AGRR industry. The U.S. Federal District judge overseeing the case has ordered the companies to preserve records that may come into evidence.
In the multidistrict litigation, collision repair shops from 12 Federal District Courts allege “steering and price fixing” by dozens of insurers. The attorneys also allege that insurers push repair companies to use aftermarket rather than OEM parts.
“[P]rofessional repairers on the whole prefer and recommend use of OEM parts for both safety and quality reasons. … Even aftermarket windshield glass poses a safety risk to vehicle occupants,” attorneys allege.
“In a rollover crash, the windshield works to keep the vehicle roof from collapsing. Aftermarket glass is thinner than OEM glass, and is not designed to fit a particular vehicle. As with other aftermarket parts, replacement glass is not subject to crash testing requirements, thinner glass may shatter rather than providing protection in a rollover or may simply pop out altogether,” attorneys claim.
This case has potential implications for the AGRR industry, as independent automotive glass repair shops allege similar issues with third-party administrators (TPAs), which handle automotive glass claims for insurers.
Why did the attorneys seek subpoenas for the tech companies? They say that after a report aired on CNN regarding potential steering by insurers to repair companies, an individual who identified himself as “Grant” called hundreds of repair shops throughout the country, including plaintiffs, asking for thoughts “on the issue of steering.” The individual asked the thoughts be emailed to Grant@CNNFollowUp.com. The attorneys say the phone numbers “Grant” used were “spoofed” and running through Google. They were virtually untraceable without Google’s help.
“Going to the domain identified by ‘Grant,’ CNNFollowUp.com automatically forwarded traffic to the legitimate CNN website,” say attorneys in the court document. “… Plaintiffs’ counsel has conferred with the producers of Anderson Cooper 360˚ program and confirmed no such person as ‘Grant’ is working on any follow up story on behalf of CNN.
The attorneys can track the CNNFollowUp.com website back to GoDaddy.com, but the person who opened the website can only be identified by GoDaddy.com, according to the attorneys.
“The plaintiffs reasonably believe that, given the manner in which they were contacted, the subject matter of the contact, the false statements and misrepresentations made during the contact and effort to obtain written statements from the plaintiffs, the probability this sham effort was conducted by or at the direction of one of the defendants is substantial,” attorneys say in court documents.
In a second instance, attorneys say hundreds of plaintiff body shops throughout the country were contacted via phone by a man identifying himself as “Tom Maple.” The caller left messages after hours saying he was visiting town and experienced a fender bender. He asked the shops if they could repair the damage before he left, according to attorneys.
“The caller began reciting a call back telephone number but very loud background noise obscured it,” attorneys say. “The caller also left the email address of firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Attorneys say the messages left for each plaintiff were identical.
Though discovery has not yet begun in the case, the attorneys asked the judge for the subpoenas because GoDaddy.com and Google were set to destroy their records “pursuant to internal record-keeping procedures” by the end of February.
Insurers have denied all allegations in the case and asked that the motion for subpoenas be denied.
“The subpoenas themselves were premised on conclusory, unsubstantiated allegations about possible violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, 47 U.S.C. § 227,” write attorneys for the defendants.
The judge ordered that the subpoenas be served on GoDaddy.com and Google. Both companies are ordered to segregate and preserve information that could relate to the multidistrict litigation for two years.
To read the plaintiffs request for subpoenas, click here.
To read the defendants response, click here.
To read the judge’s order, click here.