Appellate Court Upholds Repair-Based Class Action Certification Against State Farm
March 11, 2013

by Jenna Reed,

A State Farm customer who argued he and other customers should have received checks for full windshield replacement rather than be given repairs had his class action certification upheld by the Eighth District Court of Appeals in the County of Cuyahoga, Ohio, with slight modification, according to court documents.

Michael Cullen, who is the class representative, claims he reported windshield damage to State Farm in 2003 and that his claim was handled by the company's subcontractor Lynx Services, as described in court documents. After talking with this agent, Cullen agreed to a repair instead of replacement, but later brought suit against State Farm arguing he should have received a check in full for the replacement value of his windshield, minus the deductible.

In the case, Cullen v. State Farm, filed in 2005, Cullen's attorneys alleged State Farm created a script that Lynx used to steer claimants to opt into windshield repair rather than replacement. Cullen claimed the Lynx agent did not volunteer all options, and in particular, did not share a "pay-out" option where claimants could get a check for the entire amount of the windshield, minus the deductible, and then repair the windshield at their own expense.

Cullen alleged breach of contract, bad faith and breach of fiduciary duty against State Farm. He sought monetary and declaratory relief as well as class certification for others similarly situated.

After the trial court decided that Cullen met all the requirements of class certification, State Farm appealed.

Writing the appellate court's prevailing opinion, Judge Frank Celebrezze Jr., says, "For claims handled using a common script or word track, the trial court did not err in certifying the class in this case. Individual questions do not predominate because the script used by Lynx and developed by State Farm establishes class-wide treatment under Cullen's theory that State Farm breached its contracts with insureds by dissuading individuals from replacing their windshields and not informing them of their option to receive a check for the value of the windshield less their deductible.

"For claims made prior to the use of a common script, Cullen argues that the policy language simplifies the case to a showing that the policy in question required State Farm to restore vehicles to their pre-loss condition and that a windshield repair cannot do so. The theory, while dubious, does provide a means to resolve the case on a class-wide basis for these members. Therefore, the trial court did not err in certifying this class. However, the class definition must be restricted to exclude those who had their windshields replaced after repair. Finally, State Farm has provided nothing to indicate that the trial court did not fulfill its duty to analyze the issues in the case when rendering its judgment," the judge says.

This story is an original story by AGRR™ magazine/™. Subscribe to AGRR™ Magazine.
Subscribe to receive the free e-newsletter.