July 16, 2012, By Max Stendahl, Law360
Law360, New York (July 16, 2012, 1:43 PM ET) -- Government Employees Insurance Co. and an affiliated debt-collection company illegally use automated phone calls to track down insurance customers with supposed debts, according to a putative class action filed Friday in Florida federal court that seeks to bar the practice.
Tampa-based Bell LLC places prerecorded robocalls on Geico’s behalf with customers to inform them of alleged subrogation payments owed to the insurer, according to the complaint by Florida resident Carlos Cabrera. Neither Bell nor Geico obtains permission to place the calls, in violation of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the suit claims.
Bell and Geico have subjected Cabrera and others to “aggravation and privacy invasion,” and have also forced recipients of the calls to pay for them, according to the suit. In the past four years, robocalls have been placed with “tens of thousands” of customers, the suit alleges.
Many of those customers do not even owe a collectable debt to Geico at the time the calls are made, and in many instances, Geico eventually resorts to litigation to attempt to recoup the funds, the suit claims.
“However, Geico utilizes defendant Bell and others as a first line of attack to pressure consumers into paying the unproven subrogation payment,” according to the complaint.
The complaint seeks to establish a nationwide class and requests unspecified damages and an injunction to stop the practice.
A Geico representative could not be reached for comment Monday.
Cabrera’s claim stems from his alleged involvement in an auto accident in May 2010. About seven months after the accident, he received a call on his cellphone seeking subrogation payments to Geico, the suit claims. Over the course of the next 20 months, Cabrera received at least 20 more unauthorized calls, according to the suit.
Geico and Bell acquired Cabrera’s phone number without his consent, the suit claims. Such a practice is common for the defendants, who gain access to customer numbers through a variety of means, according to Cabrera: police reports from car accidents underlying the insurance claim, call recipients’ insurance carriers, and so-called skip tracing, the practice of locating a person’s whereabouts.
Insurers and other companies have been targeted with scores of lawsuits under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, since the law was enacted in 1991. The law placed new restrictions on telemarketing and the use of automatic dialing technology in phone calls and faxes, and has since come to cover claims related to unsolicited text messages.
The plaintiffs are represented by Rafey S. Balabanian, Benjamin H. Richman and Christopher L. Dore of Edelson McGuire LLC, and by Florida attorneys Scott D. Owens and Brett L. Luskin.
Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately available. The case is Cabrera v. Government Employees Insurance Company et al., case number 0:12-cv-61390, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
—Editing by John Quinn.