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Florida files suit against Progressive for use of chintzy auto parts

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The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is suing Progressive Insurance Co. for allegedly ordering a Tallahassee body shop to repair a car with aftermarket crash parts. The lawsuit says that the use of "inferior" aftermarket crash parts is an unfair and deceptive trade practice because the chintzy parts allegedly don't return a vehicle to its pre-loss condition, as required by the insurance policy.

Aftermarket crash parts — also known as non-Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts — include hoods, fenders, and bumpers, and are often used to repair vehicles after they've been damaged.

While several insurance companies — Allstate Insurance Co., GEICO, The Hartford, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., Travelers Property Casualty, and USAA — have been sued by consumers for recommending cheap repair parts, it is believed that Progressive is the first insurer to face legal action from a state government.

In Florida, it's illegal to use aftermarket parts that are not of like kind and quality to original parts.

Bob Crawford, commissioner of the agriculture and consumer services department in Florida, put insurers and body shops on notice on April 14, 2000, when he issued a letter to them outlining the state laws pertaining to the use of substandard aftermarket crash parts. "If during the course of a repair, an aftermarket crash part is used on a vehicle, the Department requests that the repair shop maintain records documenting that the part is at least equal to the manufacturer's original equipment," the notice says. The notice also says that it is illegal for an insurance company to mandate the use of aftermarket crash parts that are not of like kind and quality to the original parts.

The lawsuit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, seeks to stop Progressive from using inferior aftermarket crash parts. Terence McElroy, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says his department does not comment on lawsuits.

Progressive spokesperson Leslie Kolleda says that her company can't comment because it hasn't seen the lawsuit yet. However, she says that Progressive recommends repair parts that restore a policyholder's car to its pre-loss condition.

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