Tue | May 18, 2021

Lawsuits filed against auto insurers over premiums in pandemic

Published:Friday | February 26, 2021 | 12:18 AM

Attorney Robert Eglet, lead counsel for the law firm Eglet Adams.
Attorney Robert Eglet, lead counsel for the law firm Eglet Adams.

Class action lawsuits were filed in Nevada against 10 major auto insurance companies on Tuesday, contending that the companies charged excessive insurance premiums during the pandemic by failing to account for a drop in driving and crashes.

The lawsuits acknowledge that some insurers provided discounts over the emptier roads and drop in accidents and claims, but the discounts did not offer “any meaningful relief that actually reflects the reduction in cars on the road and reduced driving during the pandemic,” according to the court filings. The rates that were charged violate state law against excessive premiums, the lawsuits contend.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Nevada insurance customers against State Farm, USAA, Geico, Acuity, Liberty Mutual, Farmers, Progressive, Travelers, Nationwide and Allstate.

“The filing of a lawsuit does not substantiate the allegations within the complaint,” State Farm, the country’s largest auto insurer, said in a statement. “We’ve recently learned about the filing, and it is premature to comment at this time.”

USAA was reviewing the lawsuit, according to spokesman Matt Hartwig. “However, I do think it’s important to note that on three occasions in 2020, USAA returned dividends totalling US$1.07 billion to all auto insurance policyholders due to fewer drivers on the road because of the ongoing pandemic,” he said.

“Nationwide is taking the longer view while continuing to monitor consumer driving behaviours and how they impact future miles driven and accident frequencies. We know customers want fair rates, and agents are seeking stability,” the insurer said in a statement on Wednesday.

The company said it is “building additional benefits of the slowdown into future rates, on a state-by-state basis” and is taking lower miles driven or accident claims into account in rates for renewing policies. The company said some of that is being “offset by higher repair costs driven by more high-speed crashes and higher auto repair shop costs”.

Allstate said in a statement that it was the first insurer to respond to the decline in car crashes by providing nearly US$1 billion in paybacks to customers. “Since then, we have continued to support our customers with broad reductions in auto insurance rates that will continue beyond the pandemic,” the company said.

The other insurers did not respond to messages seeking comment, or declined to comment.

States across the country began reporting a decline in traffic and crashes when COVID-19-related closures and stay-at-home orders were imposed, starting last spring. Companies that sell the majority of the policies across the United States announced refunds or credits to drivers.

The discounts provided by insurers to reflect pandemic driving conditions varied, from US$50 to US$100 one-time refund from Acuity, a 25 per cent reduction in bills from March 20 to May 31 from State Farm, to a 15 per cent credit from Geico only when renewing a policy between April 8 and October 7, according to the lawsuits.

“I believe that the rates should have been cut something in the order of 50-60 per cent,” said Robert Eglet, lead counsel for the law firm Eglet Adams, which filed the lawsuits. “These discounts that were given, were just totally woefully inadequate.”

In Nevada, after the governor ordered the closure of non-essential businesses, the Nevada-California border, which sees traffic backups when tourists pour into Las Vegas for weekend trips and other getaways, had 66 per cent less traffic in April 2020 than in the same month in 2019, according to the lawsuits, along with a 60 per cent drop in automobile accidents in southern Nevada in March 2020 when compared to the previous year.

Eglet, whose firm represented several thousand victims of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting in a lawsuit against MGM Resorts and the state of Nevada, and a wide-ranging lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and sellers, said it was premature to estimate the total dollar amount of the claims across the lawsuit, but said it was “well into the millions”.

Nevada Division of Insurance declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Eglet said he was not aware of other class action lawsuits filed in other states making similar arguments, but predicted more may follow because of other drops in driving patterns and rates of premium relief across the states.

Lawsuits were filed last summer in Illinois contending six auto insurers failed to offer big enough relief on premiums, according to the Chicago Tribune.

AP