Auto body shop owners and consumer advocates to make another run at prioritizing car safety in repairs
Rep. Clardy says certain insurance companies “like taking premiums but they really don’t like paying claims”; opponents say they worry about giving a “blank check” to repair shopsConsumer advocates and many auto body shops in Texas are starting a fresh push to require that auto insurance companies pay for, as they put it, “quality parts used in quality repairs made by a quality shop of your choice.”Gathered outside the Texas Capitol next to the wreckage of a car that burned “horrifically” after a shoddy repair had been made using glue instead of welding to hold the roof in place, proponents of House Bill 1348 chanted “Safe repairs save lives!”A couple from Murphy, in Collin County, was burned so badly in that wreck back in 2013 that their injuries were “disfiguring” and a jury in Dallas County later awarded them $42 million in damages.Marcia and Matthew Seebachan’s “2010 Honda Fit, had been improperly repaired by a collision center. Instead of welding the roof, per Honda’s repair guidelines, the shop used adhesive. That, according to plaintiffs, compromised the car’s safety structure and contributed to the severe injuries sustained,” as reported by the automotive news website Jalopnik.Burl Richards, President of the Auto Body Association of Texas, said during the rally near the Capitol that the case of the Seebachans was an “eye opening experience” for him and other shop owners.”This would be an example to you that you need to get back there and figure it out and make sure your guys are doing it right,” Richards said. “You need to be taking it to a qualified body shop that’s interested in your safe repair of your vehicle, not basing it on what an insurance company wants to do when it comes to profits for them.””We don’t want the insurance companies dictating the repair methodology on these vehicles,” Richards said.Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, is again pushing the legislation this session.He told auto body shop owners at the rally that “You’re here because this is important for the safety of the people of Texas…it’s more costly for you to do the work right, but it’s more important than ever that it be done right.”But opponents of Clardy’s bill said they are concerned it would, among other things, “compromise auto insurer’s ability to offer service to its customers in the aftermath of a #collision.”On social media, the Texas Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions, TCAIS, said “Texans (are) best served by a variety of options in competitive market when seeking repairs covered by auto insurance, including service programs provided by #insurance companies to help get consumers back on road ASAP.”TCAIS said they also worried the bill “would give repair shops a ‘blank check’ for repair costs, deny use of specific quality parts, or create monopoly by requiring use of specific parts. All would unnecessarily drive up both repair costs & #insurance rates.”A similar measure in 2017 was passed by the House Insurance Committee but did not receive a vote on the floor.Right now, the law prohibits insurers from taking referral fees from a shop, requiring a first-or-third-party claimant to use a certain shop, or forcing a consumer to “travel an unreasonable distance” to have the repairs done.This bill, if passed, would also prevent insurers from imposing “any out-of-pocket cost other than the deductible” because a customer picked a particular shop to restore “the vehicle’s condition before the damage occurred.” It would also insert a definition holding that a “(p)revailing rate” be a “transparent and unbiased” one “conducted by a third party” using the “posted retail labor rates and not direct repair program shop rates that operate under a contract with an insurer.””Without legislation it’s not going to get done,” Richards said, adding that his group has spoken at length with the Texas Department of Insurance, where staff assured them a bill must pass before TDI can do anything about it.”It’s inspiring to work with these auto body leaders who are standing up to the insurance companies, calling out the problem and pushing for change,” said Ware Wendell, Executive Director of TexasWatch, a consumer advocacy group.”If insurance companies are able to strong-arm repair facilities and the public, we will all be in danger,” Wendell said. “The truth is after the vehicle is polished and buffed, no one knows if they have a safe repair under the skin until the next collision.”Rep. Clardy said certain insurance companies “like taking premiums but they really don’t like paying claims.””If those sensors don’t work, if those airbags don’t deploy, we are going to lose Texans across this state,” Clardy said. “You’re the people who stand on the front lines of making that happen,” he told the shop owners.