Gunder's Appeals Suit Against State Farm, Alleging Tortious Interference and Slander; Company Owner Says He "Anticipate[s] Success"

August 16, 2010

Gunder's Auto Center in Lakeland, Fla., recently appealed its suit against State Farm. In the original case, the company alleged that State Farm tortiously interfered with at least three customers and made "slanderous and/or tortious statements to those identified prospective customers." However, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida had dismissed the case with summary judgment on the grounds that the statements the body shop considered slanderous were "privileged," and that expressed malice on the part of State Farm was not proven.

Gunder's claimed in the original suit that the alleged false statements included State Farm advising that the shop was overcharging its customers; that it doesn't repair its customers' vehicles in a timely and efficient way; and that Gunder's repair equipment does not pass State Farm's inspection and is lacking in quality.

In its appeal, Gunder's questions whether: the court erred in granting summary judgment and dismissing the case; and the court "incorrectly applied the legal concept of qualified privilege to the alleged slanderous acts of State Farm." The company is requesting that the decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

State Farm has filed a response to the appeal, and maintains the previously upheld thought that statements made to its insureds are privileged "and do not give rise to a slander claim as a matter of law."

Gunder's owner Ray Gunder says he is optimistic about the case.

"We anticipate success in this regard and to move forward to achieving the ultimate goal of having our day in court," he says.

He adds, "This entire matter hinges on whether any insurer, including State Farm, can merely target a repairer and have the right to say anything they wish with the intent to harm the repairer and disparage their good name in an effort to interfere with the relationship between the repairer and their customer; so long as the insurer does not breach the legal limit referred to as 'expressed malice.'"

And Gunder says he hopes the case will benefit others as well.

"We are not alone in this issue as many repairers have heard the same or similar comments throughout the country, and not only by State Farm," he says. "So this issue isn't merely about Gunder's Auto Center vs. State Farm, it's about what every honest and ethical repairer around the country who stands up against any abusive insurer for what is right and ethical."

State Farm spokesperson Jeff McCollum declined to comment on the case due to the fact that it is still under litigation.

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