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Class Claims Insurer’s Gizmo Kills Batteries

FORT LAUDERDALE (CN) - An insurer dangles discounts for customers who install an electronic "Snapshot" gizmo in their car to track driving habits, but the device drains and kills the car batteries, a man claims in a class action.

Named plaintiff Alex Morales sued the Progressive Corporation in Federal Court. He claims the company hauled in more than $1 billion in premiums from Snapshot customers in a single year.

The complaint states: "Progressive's Snapshot® usage-based insurance program is a discount program where Progressive's customers can purportedly save money on their car insurance by sharing their driving habits with Progressive. According to Progressive, seven out of ten drivers who try Progressive's Snapshot program have qualified for a discount, which can be as high as 30 percent. According to Progressive, it is 'simply asking all drivers, "why wouldn't you try it?"'

"Participating customers are given a device that can fit into the palm of one's hand, plugs into the vehicle's on-board diagnostic port, and is powered through the vehicle's battery. The device records and sends driving data directly to Progressive, and Progressive uses that information to calculate a participating customer's insurance rate. After installation of the Snapshot device, driving data is analyzed for 30 days, after which customers find out if they are eligible for a discount based on their driving habits. Progressive claims that Snapshot customers can make changes to their driving habits that will lead to 'bigger discounts' and 'huge savings.' Through Progressive's marketing and advertising campaign, Progressive implies that Snapshot is safe for use in vehicles. Progressive conveyed and continues to convey this deceptive message through a fully integrated advertising campaign, which utilizes a variety of media, including television, newspapers, magazines, direct mail and the Internet. Progressive's representations, however, are false, misleading and reasonably likely to deceive the public since Snapshot always drains a vehicle's battery, making the battery worth less than it would be without the Snapshot device. Many times a vehicle's battery is drained to the point that the battery is nonfunctional."

Morales claims he signed up for the Snapshot program in August 2011.

"Progressive mailed plaintiff a Snapshot device which he plugged into his car's on-board diagnostic port. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff experienced occurrences in which his car would not start. Several times he was forced to ask others to assist him in jump-starting his car. Due to the frequency of his car's failure to start, plaintiff was compelled to buy jumper cables. Plaintiff took his car to an Acura repair facility where he was informed that his car battery was drained to the point that it was nonfunctional. On January 10, 2012, the Acura repair facility charged plaintiff $91.10 to replace his car's battery. Plaintiff never had a problem with his vehicle's battery prior to his use of Snapshot," according to the complaint.

Morales adds: "Snapshot utilizes 'telematics' technology, which is 'a type of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication that combines GPS, mobile computing and cellular communication.' The patents relating to Progressive's Snapshot device state that tracking of the vehicle for location identification can be done by Snapshot through a global positioning system ('GPS') antenna and other locating systems.

"The Snapshot device records and sends the participant's driving data to Progressive, including information about how hard the driver brakes, when the car is on the road (time of day), and the miles driven by the car. Progressive uses that information to calculate the customer's insurance rate, including potential discounts. Progressive also enables participating customers to log onto an Internet page where they can track their driving data gathered by Snapshot, and purportedly monitor their potential insurance savings." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Morales claims that "between July 2011 and July 2012, Progressive collected more than $1 billion in premiums from customers who utilized Snapshot."

"Progressive misrepresented the purported benefits of Snapshot, and failed to warn members of the class of the defective and harmful nature of Snapshot, namely that it causes severe vehicle battery drainage."

He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, breach of implied warranty, and consumer law violations.

He is represented by Adam Balkan, with Balkan and Patterson.

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