USAA WINS PUTATIVE CLASS ACTION SUIT BASED TOTAL LOSS VALUATIONS AND THE FILING OF OWNER-RETAINTED REPORTS
Sunny Letot, a well-known Dallas judicial campaign consultant and descendant of a notable North Texas pioneering family, was involved in a rear end collision with an insured of USAA. She filed suit against the insured driver for negligence and then joined the carrier on multiple novel theories concerning USAA’s attempted negotiation of a settlement with her which she alleged undervalued her vintage Mercedes automobile. She claimed the carrier’s payment to her of the undisputed amount of her property damage claim and its subsequent filing of a statutorily-mandated Owner Retained Report (ORR) with TexDOT constituted a violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, tortious interference with her contract with the State to drive the public roads of Texas, “conversion” of her car, and “slander” of her car title. Her claims focused on the effect of the carrier’s filing of the mandatory ORR as “stripping” her of the title of her car and requiring her to request a “salvage motor vehicle” title that she alleged effectively destroyed the value of her allegedly vintage car. Rather than apply for such a title, she physically destroyed the car, sold it for scrap, and then filed the class action lawsuit against USAA.
Ms. Letot made claims in the case as a putative class action against USAA regarding all other total loss auto claims in Texas in the past several years where the carrier filed an ORR with TexDOT regarding the value of the damaged vehicle. The Court initially tried the motor vehicle negligence case. A twelve-person jury in Dallas County found neither party was negligent. The Court entered a take nothing judgment on the tort claims last year.
The insurance and class action suit against USAA was then severed and transferred to a different court in Dallas County where Plaintiff initially sought a ruling on her class certification request. Shortly before the class cert hearing, the parties agreed to seek a ruling on the merits of the claims before proceeding with the class action certification hearing. Both parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment. After a lengthy hearing last month, Judge Craig Smith of the 192nd Judicial District Court took the motions under advisement. Last week, Judge Smith issued his rulings in Sunny Letot, Individually and On Behalf of Other Similarly Situated v. United Services Automobile Association, Cause No. 13-00156-E, in the 192nd Judicial District Court, Dallas County, Texas (July 22, 2014). Judge Smith granted USAA’s motion for summary judgment and denied Plaintiff’s motion. The Court then entered a final judgment in favor of USAA on all ground.
[Editor’s Note: USAA was represented in this putative class action by a team that included Chris Martin, Levon Hovnatanian and Rob Owen of the firm’s Houston office and George Lankford and Leslie Pitts of the firm’s Dallas office. We are very grateful for the trust of USAA in defending a putative class action suit and appreciate the opportunity to defend it’s interests in this significant case. In the suit against USAA on the insurance and class action issues, Letot was represented by attorney Jeff Tillotson and the Dallas law firm of Lynn, Tillotson, Pinker & Cox, LLP. This firm has received significant press coverage recently as the firm suing Lance Armstrong seeking to recover money previously paid to Armstrong for his Tour de France victories.]