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A body shop owner in New Jersey is in a stalemate with United Equitable Insurance over a difference in estimated costs of a repair.
Frank Szwarc, co-owner of Hayward Place Auto Body, LLC, of Wallington, N.J., believes United Equitable is being unethical and unfair in refusing to negotiate with him over the repair of a third-party claimant’s 2006 Audi A4, which was parked when struck by United Equitable’s insured.
Hayward faxed an initial estimate of $5,000.56 to United Equitable in late July. As requested by the claims adjuster, the shop e-mailed photos of the damage. Hayward then received a revised estimate of $2,014.51 and was advised to begin repairs and contact the insurer about any additional damage found after teardown.
Hayward contacted United Equitable, which decided to send an independent appraiser to reinspect damages. After inspecting the vehicle and taking photos and documenting additional repairs and parts needed, an agreed supplement of $7,721.26 was reached.
From Aug. 18 to Sept. 2, Szwarc made numerous unsuccessful calls to the adjuster and claims manager. On Sept. 3, he called the president of United and ended up getting a message to the vice president of claims. Shortly after, he received a supplement for $6,728.80 $992.46 less than the agreed supplement from the independent appraiser.
After reviewing the supplement, these omissions and differences were noted:
7% tax on labor: $140.35
Left front door molding: $58.00 (invoice submitted)
Wheel alignment: $69.95 (invoice submitted)
Antifreeze: $44.00 and oil: $23.40 (invoice submitted)
10% parts discount: $517.60
50% betterment on some parts: $909.90
Labor hours for frame set-up and pull were changed from 7.0 to 5.0
“I tried to discuss these differences with United Equitable and was categorically denied and told that they wouldn’t pay for these items,” said Szwarc. “I couldn’t believe that professionals working at United Equitable could be so uncooperative and discourteous in their handling of my inquiry concerning this claim.”
Hayward is an independent shop with no DRPs. It has six employees and annual gross sales of $500,000. Szwarc bought the shop seven years ago after working there for the previous 13 years. The shop, which is licensed, ASE-certified and I-CAR-trained, relies heavily on positive word-of-mouth referrals from top-quality work. Its posted labor rate is $50 per hour, $40 per hour for paint and materials.
Szwarc says as a vendor, Hayward is obliged to collect 7 percent tax on all services provided. As to the 10 percent discount United Equitable applied on parts, he believes no insurer is entitled to that.
“Hayward Place Auto Body has a contract with parts suppliers, not insurance companies,” he says.
Szwarc also feels that 50 percent betterment is excessive, considering that the vehicle has 46,419 miles not 100,000, as he claims is listed on the insurance estimate.
The matter is still unresolved, and the car sits at Hayward. Szwarc has filed a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. He next plans to file a complaint with the IRS. If all else fails, he will take United Equitable’s insured to court.
“All insurers are expected to provide repair allowances that are sufficient to restore damaged vehicles to pre-accident condition. And that is what we do here,” Szwarc says. “Negotiating and mutual respect are crucial in collision repairs. Not being able to achieve that from the United Equitable staff and people who oversee them is offensive and unethical and shows a lack of respect.”