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“Immediate response” is conveyed by those spiffy white sports utility vehicles that Progressive Insurance Co. claims agents drive to accident scenes. But when it comes to making settlements, “immediate” is illegal, say attorneys for victims who say they got too little, too soon. A top litigation veteran of Connecticut’s historic tobacco settlement, David S. Golub of Stamford’s Silver, Golub & Teitell, has joined the plaintiffs’ team. He is expanding the potential class action against the nation’s fourth largest auto insurer. Progressive admits it settled 816 cases over a three-year period without waiting the requisite 15 days. Plaintiffs’ lawyers say it wrongfully disregarded a 40-year old statute that can nullify hasty settlements. In an amended complaint filed Aug. 17, Golub’s team contended that Progressive engaged in a “continuing course of conduct,” and should not be limited to a three-year period. “Progressive was not required to expend monies for investigating and defending plaintiffs’ claim,” alleges the new complaint, which says the insurer was therefore unjustly enriched. The action calls for rescission of all settlements, claiming a violation of Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), which carries statutory punitive damages of up to three times actual damages. The plaintiffs want the proposed class action of Rodriguez v. Progressive to include violations for prior years, not just the original three-year period claimed, according to the filing by Golub, Jonathan M. Levine of Golub’s firm, Kenneth G. Bartlett of New Haven, and Walter C. Bansley of Branford, Conn. Lead plaintiff Anna Rodriguez of New Haven was injured in a car accident on Oct. 19, 1999 and secured a release three days later. The complaint says she did not receive fair compensation and was unable to tell how seriously she was injured or how much treatment and pain she would have to endure. Her case is pending before Waterbury Superior Court Judge Robert F. McWeeny, on the complex litigation docket. Progressive, of Mansfield Village, Ohio, was established in 1937, and in 1994 launched Internet sales of auto insurance. Progressive’s Web site says the company developed “Immediate Response�” claims service in 1990, available seven days a week, around the clock. “Progressive’s claims representatives traveling in Immediate Response Vehicles (introduced in 1994) could even come right to the scene of the accident,” it says. Comments Golub, “If they do that, if they secure releases doing that, they have a lot of exposure.” In the Rodriguez case, Golub is working with New Haven legal clinic entrepreneur Bartlett and Bansley. They are also suing Nationwide Insurance on similar grounds. The case of D ominick Diglio v. Nationwide, originally part of the Rodriguez action, has been reviewed by lawyers for the offices of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and the state Department of Consumer Protection, with a view to legal action. Deborah S. Freeman, of Bingham Dana’s Hartford offices, represents Nationwide. Unlike Progressive, which disclosed its early settlements quickly, Nationwide has not yet responded, and is not expected to do so until late September. “My guess is that there may be about 150 such instances,” estimates Bartlett. He says he was “shocked” when Progressive disclosed 816 instances, having projected about 300 at most. The plaintiffs’ team is a colorful group. In the late 1980s, Bartlett operated a chain of storefront legal offices purchased from Hyatt Legal Services, and operates a general practice clinic in New Haven. Bansley, a former Marine Corps JAG lawyer, had part of his life story played by actor Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men.” He waged a successful state class action against excessive hospital copying fees in the mid-1990s. Golub was picked by Blumenthal to lead Connecticut’s litigation against the tobacco industry, which resulted in a historic nationwide settlement and some $65 million in attorneys’ fees, split among three Connecticut firms and one in Philadelphia. Progressive is being defended by a team from New Haven-based Wiggin & Dana, which includes William H. Prout and Eileen R. Becker, along with Robert M. Langer of the firm’s Hartford office. Langer, a former deputy attorney general, has extensive CUTPA experience.

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