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Frank Lanza, owner of Highway CARSTAR Collision in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, is an adamant proponent of consumers’ right to select the collision repair facility of their choice. But he admits he’s no writer which is why he hired Attorney Erica Eversman to pen a letter that his fellow collision repairers can send to their local state representatives to voice their support for H.B. 527.
H.B. 527 is aimed at preventing insurers from directing or referring consumers to preferred shops as an unfair claims handling practice. Proponents feel the bill is good for consumers in that it ensures they’ll continue to have the right to choose the collision repair facilities they trust to repair their vehicles and also will prevent insurers from using a referral tactic to try to force repairers to violate consumer protection laws.
The letter is as follows:
As one of your constituents and a member of a group of approximately 3,200 collision repair businesses in this State comprised of independent business people and their employees who vote, I am writing to make you aware of a significant issue being experienced by small, independent business people in the collision repair industry that also adversely affects consumers.
Insurance companies routinely try to dictate to collision repair businesses how consumers’ vehicle will be repaired after an accident. Insurance companies typically send an employee to the collision repair facility to “write an estimate” for the vehicle involved in the claim. The insurance employees writing these estimates are not professional collision repairers, have never repaired a vehicle, and typically have only about two weeks of insurance company training to teach them how to write an estimate. The insurance employee then tries to force the collision repairer to agree to repair the consumer’s vehicle according to the insurance company estimate and for the insurance company’s price.
If the collision repairer agrees to perform repairs according to the insurance company’s dictates, the insurance company does not accept any responsibility or liability for how the vehicle is repaired. All liability stays with the collision repairer. If there is a problem with the manner of repair, the insurer claims that it has no involvement with how the vehicle was repaired as it only “pays to have vehicles repaired”, and the collision repairer should have properly repaired the vehicle based on the repairer’s professional opinion for which the insurer would naturally have fully paid. If the collision repairer refuses to agree with the insurer about how to repair the vehicle, the insurer immediately attempts or threatens to remove the consumer’s vehicle to a collision repair facility that has already signed an agreement with the insurer to repair according to the insurer’s requirements and to indemnify the insurer for any matters that arise about the repair.
Under Ohio’s consumer protection laws, the Consumer Sales Practices Act (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1345) and the Ohio Administrative Code § 109:4-3-13, collision repairers are required to notify consumers of their rights to receive estimates of repair from the repairer; they must obtain the consumers’ express authorizations before repairing their vehicles; and they must notify consumers if there are changes to the repair plan and obtain their express authorization for the changes. Insurer actions like those described above interfere with the collision repairer’s legal obligations to consumers under the consumer protection laws.
Because insurers have no liability for potentially inadequate repairs, they have no incentive to ensure they are paying an appropriate amount for safe and proper repairs to the consumer’s vehicle. Insurers routinely undervalue the necessary amount to safely and properly repair consumers’ vehicles. This puts the collision repairer in the position of: 1) requiring the consumer to pay for the difference in the amount the repairer charges for a safe and proper repair and the amount the insurer is willing to pay to indemnify the consumer; 2) cutting corners on the consumer’s repair job which likely violates the consumer protection law and subjects the repairer to a claim of negligence; or 3) refusing the consumer’s repair job, which can subject the repairer to a claim for breach of contract with the consumer. None of these options is good for consumers, deprives them of the choice to select their own collision repair facility, and allows insurers to shortchange them of their rights under automobile insurance policies. It has also had the effect of driving many small, independent collision repair businesses in this State to close their doors.
Additionally, independent collision repair businesses in Ohio are required to be registered with the Ohio Board of Motor Vehicle Collision Repair Registration under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4775. One of the registration requirements is to have and maintain a certain amount of garagekeeper’s insurance to protect consumers. Collision repairers who sign contracts with auto insurers requiring complete indemnification of an insurer referring business to the shop in exchange for the repairer allowing the insurer to control repairs, however, puts the shop’s garagekeeper’s insurance at risk. When collision repair facilities that are members of an auto liability insurer’s network of “preferred” collision repair shops ask their garagekeeper’s insurer to confirm coverage despite the indemnification provision, the garagekeeper’s insurers refuse to do so.
I ask that you support legislation to protect consumers from the actions of insurance companies. Currently, there is a bill that has been introduced in the Ohio Legislature to prevent auto insurers from directing or referring consumers to preferred collision repairers as an unfair claims handling practice. House Bill Number 527 is good for consumers by ensuring that they continue to have the right to choose the collision repairer they trust to have their vehicles repaired and also by preventing insurers from using a referral tactic to try to force collision repairers to violate the consumer protection laws. I urge you to support House Bill Number 527 to protect consumers and to ensure consumers can obtain safe and proper collision repairs.
I would be happy to discuss any of these matters with you. If you have any questions or would like to further discuss any of these issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Very Truly Yours,
Lanza encourages repairers to complete the letter and forward it to the appropriate House representative. To figure out who represents them, repairers can click on the link below and, once on the Ohio House of Representatives website, use the search function based on their zip codes found on the righthand side of the page.