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