Thousands could join Orkin lawsuit
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- A lawsuit alleging that Orkin, the nation's largest pest control company, defrauded some customers who paid for termite inspections was granted class-action status by a Hillsborough judge on Tuesday.
Plaintiffs' lawyers celebrated the decision by Circuit Judge Robert J. Simms and said it could affect as many as 100,000 Floridians who contracted with Orkin for treatment or inspections involving subterranean termites.
"It's a huge hurdle we just jumped over," said Daniel Clark, a Tampa attorney representing plaintiffs in the suit. "This is really a big shot to Orkin's ego and a great win for the state of Florida and consumers."
Atlanta-based Orkin vowed to appeal the judge's decision to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.
"We strongly believe Judge Simms' opinion is mistaken and conflicts with the law in a long line of Florida cases," Orkin spokeswoman Martha May said in a statement. "It is important to note that Judge Simms did not find any fault with Orkin whatsoever. He simply allowed the plaintiffs' claims . . . to go forward procedurally as a class action."
May said Orkin "strenuously denies" allegations made against the company.
Floridians who paid for a standard termite contract with Orkin since March 9, 1995, may be affected by the class action, the judge said. At a later date, plaintiff attorneys will advertise throughout the state to try to identify and contact people affected by the decision.
The 1999 lawsuit on behalf of four plaintiffs alleges that Orkin failed to provide reinspection or retreatment services for which the company charged customers. The lawsuit says that Orkin workers forged customers' signatures saying the services had been provided.
Orkin also has been the subject of an investigation by the Florida Attorney General's Office.
"Single-family homeowners don't have the resources to fight the battle against Orkin, the 8,000-pound gorilla that defends each case vigorously even though they know they did something wrong," Clark said.
Clark expects the lawsuit to go to trial early next year. He said damages for individual members of the class-action suit might vary greatly and could far exceed the $300 to $500 each person paid for the annual termite contract. That could be the case, for instance, for homeowners who suffered termite damage as a result of Orkin's failing to conduct an inspection or treat the property, Clark said.
Although Clark said the class action affects as many as 100,000 people, Orkin estimated that as many as 65,000 would potentially be affected.
A similar lawsuit filed in Alabama against Orkin had previously been granted class-action status. Efforts also are under way in Texas to do the same, Clark said.
-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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