LAS VEGAS (AP) — 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 totaling $1.07 billion to all auto insurance policy holders due to fewer drivers on the road because of the ongoing pandemic,” he said.
Liberty Mutual declined to comment.
The American Property Casualty Insurance Association issued a statement saying that plaintiff’s attorneys are trying to “squeeze the auto insurance marketplace.”
“The plaintiffs’ bar is leaving no stone unturned during the pandemic. The latest play is targeting the auto insurance marketplace,” said Stef Zielezienski, APCIA’s executive vice president and chief legal officer. “Litigation profiteering is a direct threat to long-term economic recovery. The insurance industry is working to rebuild communities and yet this type of lawsuit abuse has the opposite effect.”
APCIA said insurers are paying major catastrophe claims in 2020.
“Current estimates indicate that insured pandemic losses will be more than $100 billion globally,” the association said. “The industry is helping communities rebuild after prolonged social unrest and handling an estimated $2 billion in insured losses, almost twice the previous record suffered in Los Angeles in the 1992 period. In addition, 2020 was a record year for natural catastrophe damage with U.S. insured losses expected to total $67 billion from record-breaking hurricanes and devastating wildfires.”
Phone and email messages seeking comment from the other insurers were not immediately returned Tuesday.
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 U.S. announced refunds or credits to drivers.
The discounts provided by insurers to reflect pandemic driving conditions varied, from $50 to $100 one-time refund from Acuity, a 25% reduction in bills from March 20 to May 31 from State Farm, to a 15% 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%,” 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.”
His comments are similar to those made by the Consumer Federation of America in September, which said that the relief provided by insurers was not enough and said state insurance commissioners who regulate the industry had failed “to prevent windfall auto insurer profits as auto claims dropped when driving and auto crashes declined.”
In Nevada, after the governor ordered the closure of nonessential businesses, the Nevada-California border, which sees traffic backups when tourists pour into Las Vegas for weekend trips and other getaways, had 66% less traffic in April 2020 than in the same month in 2019, according to the lawsuits, along with a 60% 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.
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