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Court Nixes Class Action on Geico Insurance Fraud

CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit dismissed a man's prospective class action, accusing Geico of omitting necessary repairs from its collision-damage estimates, because the plaintiff had donated his car to charity after the crash without performing repairs.

Steven Greenberger, a professor at DePaul University College of Law, was involved in a crash in 2002 that damaged the bumper, steering box, suspension and lower body of his 1994 Acura.

Geico evaluated the damages and wrote Greenberger a check for $3,284.69. A body shop later estimated that the car would cost $4,938.65 to repair, about $1,150 more than Geico estimated.

Greenberger deposited Geico's check and donated the car to charity without making any repairs. He then accused Geico of "systematically [omitting] necessary repairs from its collision-damage estimates in violation of the promise to restore the policyholder's vehicle to its preloss condition."

An Illinois federal court entered summary judgment for Geico, and the 7th Circuit upheld the ruling on Monday.

In beginning its analysis, the appeals court concluded that the district court did not err in sidestepping the class-certification issue to rule on Sykes' claims.

The three-judge panel then upheld the lower court's findings on the merits, finding that the claims were foreclosed by an Illinois Supreme Court decision - Avery v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.

"Avery established the common-sense position that a policyholder's suit against his insurer for breach of its promise to restore his collision-damaged car to its preloss condition cannot succeed without an examination of his car," Circuit Judge Diane Sykes wrote.

In trying to distinguish his suit, Greenberger argued that he is not challenging the quality of the repair work, as in Avery, but the alleged practice of omitting repairs necessary to restore the vehicle to its preloss condition.

The court rejected such a narrow interpretation, finding that Avery "is not narrowly limited to cases alleging that an insurer's estimate uses substandard repair parts."

Greenberger's claims of widespread breach of contract under the Consumer Fraud Act since he failed to show evidence of "affirmative acts of misrepresentation multiplied over a prospective plaintiff class," Sykes explained.

The ruling also affirmed the district court's decisions to dismiss Sykes' breach of contract and common-law fraud claims.

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