The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of New Jersey (AASP/NJ) held their first-ever virtual town hall meeting on Aug. 19, discussing photo estimating, insurer conduct and more.
Charles Bryant, executive director of AASP/NJ, focused attendees’ attention on state regulations governing auto physical damage claims and unfair claim settlement practices, highlighting language that shop owners need to understand in order to protect their rights as well as the rights of insured consumers. He explained that although insurers conducting business in New Jersey are supposed to follow these rules, the lack of a private right of action prevents lawsuits against carriers that violate them. The only option left, then, is to make a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. However, the department will only act once it has received enough complaints to show a general business practice.
Bryant likened the ineffectiveness of this system to a police officer not being able to issue a ticket to someone for running a red light unless that person is caught doing it three times. Therefore, speaking out by way of filing a complaint to the department is key in bringing action that can lead to positive and more immediate change. Properly filing a complaint involves convincing the customer to permit the shop to file on their behalf as a designated representative.
“If we want these regulations to work, you have to make the complaints,” said Bryant. “You have to stop what you are doing, take the time and write [them].”
Addressing another concern in the Garden State, Bryant stressed that it is reasonable for shops to charge insurers for time spent taking photos. Due to COVID-19, most insurers have refrained from sending appraisers to inspect vehicles in person. To ensure proper reimbursement, Bryant stated that shops should ask insurers to sign an agreement up front letting them know they will charge for photo services. If the insurer refuses, then an appraiser must come out and inspect the vehicle.
Another issue for shops involves insurers playing what Bryant called the “picture game over and over,” only to declare the vehicle a total loss in the end. In many cases, this is followed by an insurer refusing to pay the shop for storage during the time it took the carrier to make the total loss determination. Bryant explained that the Duty to Protect provision found in automotive insurance policies states that the insureds must protect their vehicles from further damage and that insurers must cover any reasonable expense to make this possible. It is AASP/NJ’s position that this verbiage establishes that insurers are responsible for the reimbursement of storage charges for however long a vehicle is at a shop.
AASP/NJ also shared its latest efforts in support of the “New Jersey Insurance Fair Conduct Act” (A1659), legislation that would establish “a private cause of action for first-party claimants regarding certain unfair or unreasonable practices by their insurer.” Additionally, successful claimants would be entitled to, among other things, reimbursement for their loss and court and attorney’s fees.
Jerry McNee, president of AASP/NJ, noted that passage of the bill would be “a game changer” and called for support from association membership to help move it forward.
“We need more people to stand up for what is right, or things are not going to change,” said McNee.
McNee also encouraged AASP/NJ to make the most out of the discussions and perspectives shared during the Town Hall.
“Take this information, use it and continue to use it,” he said. “Every time someone doesn’t, it’s game over. We need to take back our businesses and be treated as the professionals we are.”
For more information on AASP/NJ, visit aaspnj.org.