After a year-and-a-half-long court battle, Kilkeary’s Auto Body of Eighty Four, Pa., has won a suit over Travelers involving a customer dispute over an ill-fitting aftermarket bumper.
The customer, a third-party claimant, came in with damage to the bumper of his 2006 Dodge pickup. Travelers wrote for an aftermarket part, so, as is the shop’s policy, Kilkeary’s expressed their view on the difference between an OE and aftermarket part, saying that the aftermarket part may or may not fit as well as the factory part and they won’t stand behind it in any manner if it rusts or if the paint peels or it has any other issue. If there is an issue, the shop told the customer he would have to reach out to Travelers to rectify the situation.
After talking with the shop, the customer called Travelers and told them he didn’t want an aftermarket bumper installed on his truck. According to owner Tim Kilkeary, the insurer assured him that it would fit as good as an original part and that they would stand behind it, so he decided to go ahead with the aftermarket bumper.
According to Kilkeary, the aftermarket bumper fit “OK but not great,” but the customer declined it after seeing it “with no coaching from us.”
When Travelers came back in, they said they would pay the shop for the time to install an OE bumper and also pay the difference between the aftermarket and OE part.
“I said what about the money I’ve already earned on that aftermarket part?” said Kilkeary. “I ordered it, received it, checked it in, warehoused it, dispatched it to my tech, etc. I did all the stuff that that markup money is meant to pay for, so I’m not giving you that money back. I’ll give you back what I paid for the bumper, but not the list price because that money is already earned and spent. Of course, they balked at that and that’s why the lawsuit happened.”
After spending more than $10,000 on the suit, Kilkeary’s sum total from the victory was $156. But he says it wasn’t about the money but the principle of the matter.
“The bottom line is that shops should be and can be charging for the markup money on aftermarket parts regardless of whether or not those parts get put on the car. If they order that part based on the insurer’s requirement (and that’s what they tell me – ‘We’re required to write for that and that’s all we can pay for until you show us it doesn’t fit,’ and I say, ‘Alright, I’ll play ball with you and order it and get it here, but if it needs to go back I will keep that markup money’), those shops have already earned all that markup money. They did all the things that markup money is there to pay for, so why should they have to give all that money back to the insurer?”
Kilkeary’s has no DRPs but is certified by Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Honda and Volkswagen, and gets most of their work from area dealers that do not have body shops. Their philosophy is that they’ll work with insurers but refuse to be told how to repair a vehicle.
“If we can work out the details of the repair with the insurer, great. If not, we will be in touch with the vehicle owner to explain the differences,” Kilkeary says.
Travelers is not the most difficult insurer Kilkeary deals with; Progressive earns that title, he says. These “cookie-cutter” insurers make it difficult on themselves, Kilkeary says, when they come in and say, “We don’t pay for that.” But not all insurers give him a hard time.
“On a lot of the high-end cars we work on, there are procedures that you simply have to do that you wouldn’t have to do on a Chevy or Buick,” says Kilkeary. “Aside from the cookie-cutters, there are insurers who will handle claims on an individual basis and will pay for the necessary repairs to a vehicle. They may not pay the guy down the street for it, but they know we have to do these procedures and know that we will do them and thus they will pay us. We’ll give them an estimate for $5,000 or a supplement for $2,000, and they’re doing everything they can to match the number regardless of what’s on their document just to get out of here without an argument.”
This is not the first time Kilkeary has sued an insurer. In two other cases he prevailed as well, one against Erie Insurance where a vehicle he repaired had a water leak that he was able to prove was unrelated to the repairs, and another against Nationwide involving a totaled car and storage charges.
“There is no question I’ve been labeled a ‘troublemaker’ and been steered against,” Kilkeary says. “You call any insurance claims supervisor and they would they say those guys do nice work but they’re a real pain. And I’m OK with that.”