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Connecticut Supreme Court Rules Against Hartford in Anti-Steering Case; Decision Made Public

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of several auto body shops in a case alleging that Hartford Fire Insurance Co. was engaging in steering practices. The ruling in Artie's Auto Body Inc. Et Al. vs. Hartford Fire Insurance Co. notes that when Hartford insureds are seeking auto body repairs, "customer care team specialists are instructed to direct the insureds to the closest preferred shop through The Hartford's customer repair service program."

The opinion continues, "The specialists are trained to 'sell' the repair service program aggressively by informing insureds that, if they utilize the recommended preferred shop, they will receive $100 off of their deductible and a lifetime guarantee for the repair."

The specialists are then rewarded based on the number of successes they have in selling this program, according to court documents.

An economic consultant, Frederick B. Jennings Jr., testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, and proposed a method to calculate the effect of the aforementioned policy on non-preferred shops in Connecticut. First, Jennings looks at "the percentage of claims that would have flowed to preferred shops in the absence of any steering." He then compared the numbers of specialists and their success rates, to determine that "approximately 40 percent of all referrals to preferred shops would have gone to those shops without steering."

However, he argued, "Correspondingly, approximately 60 percent of all referrals to preferred shops would have gone to non-preferred shops without steering," according to the ruling. By applying this percentage to the number of repair service jobs performed in 2003 by Connecticut shops, he argued "approximately 2,200 jobs were diverted to preferred shops because of steering."

The court writes, "We conclude that the trial court was well within its discretion in finding that the plaintiffs satisfied their burden of demonstrating that generalized, class-wide evidence may be used to prove that The Hartford engaged in unfair or deceptive practices that caused each of the putative class members to suffer an ascertainable loss."

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