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To some in the Iowa Insurance Division and the Iowa state
legislature, Tom O’Mara’s name is a familiar one. He has educated them over the
years on several issues in the collision repair industry, including labor
rates, steering, and paint and materials capping.
O’Mara’s mission will continue when he meets with Iowa
Gov. Terry Branstad on Sept. 6 to discuss those issues and more, but more
importantly why, in his opinion, nothing has been done about them.
A recent run-in with an insurance company prompted O’Mara
to continue his quest for political action. According to O’Mara, an insurance
company told him they were only going to pay him $52 an hour, even though his
labor rate is $56.
"The minute they told me that, I hung up the phone,
called the vehicle owner and read the state law to him, and he contacted them
and told them, ‘You will pay that bill,’" O’Mara said. "I tell so
many shops around here, ‘Charge what you want to charge, and when they start
arguing with you, do the same thing I do.’ But they’re afraid to do it."
The law in Iowa basically states if the insurer writes an
estimate or has one written for them, and the vehicle owner takes the vehicle
to a repair facility and the repair costs more than the estimate, the insurer must pay the difference.
"I’ve been using that law to my advantage, but when
these insurers tell a shop in Iowa that this is all they’ll pay, they’re lying," said O’Mara. "And they keep arguing and arguing until you give into them, but I’m not letting
them get away with it."
In the case where the insurer refused to pay O’Mara’s
rate, they eventually relented. According to O’Mara, one of the insurer’s
appraisers came to the shop afterward and handed him a letter.
"It said I had to agree with them on the repairs for
the next job and all other jobs thereafter before I start work on them,"
he said. "But I’m going to fix those cars whether they agree with my
estimate or not. Fact is I don’t agree with any insurer estimate."
O’Mara recounted another recent incident involving a
third-party claimant. According to O’Mara, the insurance company of the person
who caused the accident said they would not pay O’Mara’s rate.
"I told her let’s get the car in here, we’ll go
ahead and fix it and turn the bill into them," he said. "If they
don’t reimburse you, contact the guy who ran into you and tell him he owes you
the difference. I guarantee you that you’ll get some action.
"I also informed her ahead of time to contact her
insurer to let them know she was involved in an accident and give them an
opportunity to inspect the vehicle. And if they don’t want to inspect it and
you still don’t get anywhere with [the person who caused the accident], turn it
over to your insurer. When they figure out they have to pay the rest of the
bill, they’ll go after him. It boils down to being educated."
O’Mara had to speak with the governor’s aide first before
getting a meeting with the governor. He showed him estimates, letters he claims
revealed insurer threats against him, the last three years’ worth of price
increases he has had to endure, and a copy of the 1963 Consent Decree.
"I highlighted everything in the Consent Decree that
the insurers agreed not to do anymore," O’Mara said. "I let them know
this is the third time I’ve given a copy of the Consent Decree to the State of
Iowa and asked, ‘What are you going to do about it? This is still
O’Mara says he also educated the aide on steering, DRP
shops and tax dollars being "stolen." And he sent him a link to an
article that ran in the August 2011 issue of BodyShop Business titled,
"Diary of a Bad Repair Part II."
"I plan on asking the governor how he would feel if
one of his grandchildren had to ride in one of those cars," said O’Mara.
"I’m also going to ask him what state agency will stick up for the
collision industry. A government is supposed to protect, and we have no
After meeting with the governor, O’Mara says his next
initiative will be to circulate a petition in the state to make the position of
commissioner of the Iowa Insurance Division an elected position versus an