A class-action lawsuit accuses United Automobile Insurance Company of gouging thousands of Utah Hispanics through fraudulent and misleading practices.

UAIC executives, however, deny the complaint's allegations, saying their business practices comply with Utah law. They also maintain their dedication to serving the insurance needs of their Spanish-speaking customers.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in 3rd District Court, says UAIC and three of its Utah-based agencies — El Sol Insurance Agency, Amigos Insurance Agency and Las Americas Insurance Agency — fail to adequately inform Hispanic clients of the advantages of buying uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, which covers drivers involved in collisions with negligent drivers who have no liability insurance or insufficient coverage.

Jim McConkie, one of the attorneys who filed the suit, said Hispanic clients waive their right to those types of coverage because of misleading information. The company can then increase its profits because it doesn't have to pay out as many claims, while Hispanic clients are left to fend for themselves in accidents with uninsured drivers.

"We felt that these practices should be brought to light," McConkie said. "(Hispanic clients are) afraid to assert their rights."

But UAIC executives say the complaint's allegations are "totally ridiculous."

"We do everything we can to provide service for our customers," said UAIC chief executive officer Richard Parrillo. "We never hide or shirk any responsibility."

McConkie also said UAIC agents use English-language forms that "confuse and mislead customers about the availability, cost and purpose of these types of insurance."

"They don't know what's been said; they don't really understand this," he said of clients when they sign forms.

Parrillo said UAIC agents fully explain in Spanish uninsured- and underinsured-motorist insurance to customers, but some customers choose not to buy the coverage because of the additional expense. He said the forms are in English as required by law and are virtually identical to forms used by other insurance companies licensed in Utah.

Parrillo also said UAIC serves Hispanic communities in 12 states, and the vast majority of its 900 employees can communicate with customers in Spanish if they prefer.

McConkie disagrees with UAIC's position. He said his law firm estimates thousands of the firm's Hispanic customers have suffered unnecessary financial hardship and exposure to unknown loss because of deceptive business practices.

"There is a tendency to kind of downgrade these groups that are not mainstream," he said. "And that shouldn't happen."

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