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Progressive allegedly steering customers from shop.
Greg Coccaro finds himself regarded as somewhat of a rock star these days. It all started when word got out that he had filed a $40 million lawsuit against Progressive (see story on pg. 14) for allegedly steering customers from his shop, North State Custom, located in Bedford Hills, New York. He’s received dozens of e-mails from shop owners across the country lauding him for having the guts to take on the insurance industry. Most say that they too are victims of steering. A body shop owner from Kwazulu Natal, South Africa even wrote to him, saying he too has encountered the same problem and wants to learn from Coccaro’s experiences. Some shops have even sent Coccaro checks to help cover his legal bills.
Coccaro has been touched by all the attention, but he’s quick to point out he didn’t file the suit to gain popularity and become some sort of messiah.
“I did this because I’m pissed,” he says. “We do the finest work in Westchester County, maybe in the state. It was always our goal to be the best in the business. But you know what happens to the best in the business these days? They get punished. If you’re running a quality organization, you’re either doing half the work for free or your customers are being told that you overcharge for everything you do.”
The straw that broke the camel’s back, Coccaro says, was a recent dispute with Progressive over a customer’s vehicle. He claims the insurer tried to steer her to a shop in its network, but she insisted her car be repaired at his shop. Then, his estimate was significantly higher than theirs. In the end, his total bill came to around $34,500, compared to their initial estimate of around $26,000. Progressive ultimately paid his bill. Two months later, the insurer sued him for the total amount of the bill plus $1,000 for each count of fraud “and a whole litany of things I didn’t do to the car,” Coccaro says.
“They said we had a contract with them, which we never did,” he says. “We never have a contract with an insurance company.”
So far, he’s spent $80,000 on that case. Not once has he considered settling.
“I would never do that because I haven’t done anything wrong,” Coccaro says. “I’m going to win this no matter how much money they make me spend.”
Coccaro may seem like he’s anti-DRP, but he used to be on several of them back in the early ’80s. That is, until “the noose began to tighten,” he says.
“They started coming in with their little report cards saying my aftermarket parts usage was down, etc., and I was in jeopardy of being thrown off the program. I just got tired of being talked to like I was in high school and I was going to get kicked off the track team if I didn’t improve my grades. So I just decided not to do that anymore. I figured if I ran out of work due to steering, at least I’d go down on my feet and not on my knees.”
Despite shunning DRPs, Coccaro has come a long way from the day in 1970 he and his brother, Al, borrowed $500 for a Craftsman tool set and opened for business. Last year North State Custom grossed $3.8 million, down slightly from the usual $4 million due, he claims, to steering. He says his shop is one of the most highly regarded ones in the area, certified by BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and Jaguar.
“In almost 40 years, I haven’t had one customer or anyone else for that matter bring me to court for anything,” Coccaro says.
Coccaro figures his new lawsuit against Progressive will set him back $200,000. But he emphasizes once again that it’s never been about the money.
“That’s not why this started,” he says. “I just felt I had no choice because of what [Progressive] did to us and what they’re trying to do to us. This needs to be exposed, and I plan on making as much noise as possible.
“The problem with this industry is that [the shops] are all on their knees. I understand the fear factor because I had it too. But you can’t live your life in fear. I don’t care if it’s body work or whatever business you’re in, if you live by fear, you’re going to get crushed.”
After hearing about the lawsuit, an Ohio body shop sent Coccaro a smiley button with the words, “Enough is enough.” He’s hoping other shop owners across the country will take that slogan to heart and finally stand up for themselves. It’s nice to dream, anyway.
Jason Stahl, Managing Editor
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