Steering Into the Abyss

February 5, 2008 by
Filed under: Collision Repair Industry 

Without steering there could be no concession based DRP’s. Without concession based DRP’s there would be no need for steering. While insurers defend their tactics as good marketing it is little more than a conspiracy to deprive you of well needed and deserved income. It’s one thing for an insurer to recommend a repair shop to an insured who hasn’t already chosen one, or to an insured who asks for advice, but once a vehicle is in your shop, any attempt by an insurer to get it moved to another shop should be criminal. Though it is not criminal yet, I’m about to give you a method for retaliating through the court system. And since insurers have no fear of being sued, a different target would be more suitable.

Across the country many body shop owners, fed up with effects of steering and lost work to DRP shops, have decided to sue insurers to end this disgusting practice. It’s a formidable challenge. When most shops operate on single digit profits the money needed to successfully sue an insurer is tough to come by. Some shops have solved this problem by forming classes and hiring high powered attorneys who work on contingency fees. Such is the case here in Connecticut. Several shops have gotten together and hired a law firm from New York City to sue the pants off of The Hartford for what they consider blatant, over-the-line efforts at steering work to their network shops. A judge has granted class status for the suit, but The Hartford has appealed. With massive amounts of their own money invested so far, the New York law firm is not likely to let this decision be overturned. But if The Hartford is successful at squashing this class status, much will be lost on the part of the collision repairers. The Hartford will just brush it off as a minor annoyance. Such is the gamble.

I believe we have our sights focused on the wrong targets. The insurers are hard to beat. They have an endless pile of cash to buy their way out of just about any pickle. Case in point: State Farm’s aftermarket parts decision.

I’m not saying it’s impossible. It could even  be getting easier with all of the Attorney’s General who are jumping on the “hang the insurer” band wagon.

But why choose such a  hard target?

If I was a shop owner I would do the unspeakable. I would go after the shop that’s playing pickup-the-soap in front of the insurer. Think about it. The DRP whore down the street is a co -conspirator in the scheme to deprive you of a living. I would sue the hell out of the bastards. I call this act “unspeakable” because we spend so much time harping about our industry’s fragmented mentality. It may seem over the top to consider going after one of your own instead of your real enemy, the insurance companies. I’m sorry, but I don’t consider the insurance companies to be the true enemy here. Yeah, I know, I spend a good deal of effort berating their actions, but I spend just as much time pointing out what morons we are.

If we are our own worst enemy, then shouldn’t we expend as much energy destroying that enemy as we do trying to beat the insurance industry? When Joe Blow’s Auto Body and Massage Parlor down the street signs that contract with one of the worst offending insurance companies, and that shop knows the hard sell that insurer is going to give its insureds and claimants to take their vehicles there, the person signing that contract is conspiring with the insurance company to steal work from you. That work isn’t going to this DRP shop because of the shop’s reputation. The only reason most of those cars are bypassing your doors and sliding into his is because the insurance company coerced the vehicle owner, and the shop owner eagerly bends over to pick up the soap. If the shop doesn’t conspire with the insurer, the steering can’t happen. You know the adage, “It takes two to tango.”

Imagine getting paperwork served on you from another body shop claiming that you have been conspiring with others to steal money from that shop. It would probably be time for a diaper change, don’t you think. That’s got to be one of the scariest things that can happen to you. Do you think your insurance partner would defend you in court? Why should they? Especially if they are not named in the suit. And don’t forget all those pesky DRP contracts with those even peskier hold harmless clauses. You’re on your own pal.

If that thought scares you, and you are having your business destroyed by DRP whores, maybe it’s time you go after the real culprit. Now, I’m not talking about the little shop with one or two DRP’s, I’m talking about the shops that are destroying our industry. The shops that gladly steal work away from you after you’ve already torn it down and tried to negotiate with the insurance company. I’m talking about the shops with a wall covered in plaques from their endless list of insurance partners. The shop with more desks for insurance personnel than for its own employees. The shop that is constantly turning out crappy work at cut-rate prices. The shop owner who never attends association meetings because he’s afraid to show his face. You know exactly who I am talking about.

When two shops get together and conspire to cost an insurance company money it’s a serious offense. Why shouldn’t the same be true when an insurer and another shop conspire to cost you money? If you know you are a quality shop, an honest shop with a good reputation, yet you continuously loose work because of insurer steering you should do something about it. If taking an insurance company to court is a daunting thought, consider going after the other half of the crime syndicate. Take on the weaker suspect.

Is there legal precedence for this type of action? I couldn’t tell you. A little common sense does seem to illuminate a good opportunity for those of you bold enough to take a chance. Think of the effect a successful suit would have on the industry. You would be a pioneer, a super hero to your fellow anti-DRP shop owners.

Insurers are repeating the mantra that their steering is really just good marketing. Marketing for what? They have no business marketing for a body shop. Some are very careful not to cross that line between offering information and help, and coercive hammering. But, using common sense again, if someone tells you they were told they had to take their car to Joe Blows Body and Massage because the insurance company said so, it only makes sense that the insurer crossed that line. Otherwise, why would the customer come away with that impression? We all know the names of the insurance companies that consistently do this. Shops involved with those companies know damn well those cars are getting steered their way. They are knowingly complicit in the steering scheme.

There is your enemy, my friends. Go after him with a vengeance.

Please, if anyone does give this idea a try, if you sue a conspiring shop, let me know how it goes. We’d all like to know.

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Comments

8 Comments on Steering Into the Abyss

  1. Wade Ebert on Tue, 5th Feb 2008 3:21 pm
  2. Exactly.

    As a shop owner and a guy with some experience in the legal realm, I have to agree with you here John. DRP shops are exposed more than they can imagine to such actions. If fraud is alleged, there is not an business insurer in the field that will provide funds for a defense.

    Imagine the repairer being compelled to present evidence and testimony in “discovery” of their “relationships” with insurers. It would also be interesting to make discovery requests of insurers with regard to how their programs are used to move work to their contracted repairers who have agreed to make compromises of certain elements of repair – even before a vehicle owner has had a loss. Operating in this way may be/is considered by the courts to be fraudulent on the part of the repairer, if by those actions the repairer may be/is engaged in an “illegal enterprise” as their business model. It is not that long a row to hoe to the settlement table.

    Hopefully this year the industry wakes up, society wakes up and we all just get back to fixing cars – and leave the “claims handling” to non-repair entities.

  3. Bob Isham on Wed, 6th Feb 2008 9:21 am
  4. I don’t disagree that filing lawsuits against the mega DRP whores could work BUT I feel that it could be risky. Finding the right lawyer is often as tough as finding the right collision repair shop who will work for the consumer and not be intimidated by the insurer. Funding the lawsuit can also we quite expensive and in a lot of states if you have a bad lawyer, and lose the case you are also responsible for the other parties reasonable attorney fees. Let us all remember that “reasonable” attorney fees could be many thousands of dollars.

    I still feel that doing “Post Repair Inspections” is one of the best tickets to inflicting harm on the DRP whores. The work they do is usually horrible and the consumer is usually in a position to get a good redo (at your shop) or they will “total” the vehicle and your shop will collect some decent moneies. Happy consumer, and the Post Repair Inspector is a hero. Another DRP shop is exposed and the good guys win.

    Sadly we have seen the insurance companies foot the bill and I am not sure if they ever recover their monies but they do often boot them off the program.

    If every major DRP job was inspected by a competent Post Repair Inspector we could really throw a wrench in the system. We can all agree we need to do something to stop the illegal steering. Our shop has been responsible for uncovering a lot of bad work and making insurance companies pay for their sins. It has been my experience that most repair shops are reluctant to “have an opinion” on bad work. They fear retribution from insurers and to some extent they might know their own work will not stand the PRI process.

  5. Truman Fancher III on Wed, 6th Feb 2008 3:57 pm
  6. I agree with this approach 100%. In fact that wheel is already rolling in our state.

  7. Jennifer on Mon, 18th Feb 2008 7:03 pm
  8. Does anyone out there have any instances where Allstate Insurance Company has pulled a car out your repair shop to take to a PRO shop or DRP SHOP?? I am only looking for instances where Allstate has done this as they claim in a suit I have against them that they never allow a customer to take their car from the shop they initially choose to a pro/drp shop. You can email me with comments at jennifercelentano@sbcglobal.net.

    I am also looking for information as to whether any autobody repair persons believe that it is a sound practice to determine whether you can fix a car that has frame damage without writing an estimate or putting it on a Genesis or frame machine.
    thanks to all who reply

    Jennifer M. Celentano
    P.S. Something is definitely rotten in Northbrook, Illinois.

  9. Bobby owens on Fri, 7th Mar 2008 3:05 pm
  10. I don’t have an instance where allstate is doing that but I can tell you horror stories about state farm. Double sheeting, paying tow drivers and sf reimbursing the drp whore the tow truck payoff. Something is definitley rotten in central florida. Call the corporate office here and just ask or better yet call the whore drp and thats where all managemnet is or on his boat

  11. Rob D. on Fri, 2nd May 2008 11:37 am
  12. We here in Mass we have a quasi-DRP state. Not really allowed on paper or by the regulations, but the insurers enjoy the fact that our Div of Insurance(DOI) has no back bone and the commisioner usually goes to work for an insurer after their stint with the state.
    Steering is rampant and so are the contract shops. We still are getting paid a whopping $36.00 to $38.00 a repair unit.

    My situation is really tough with one company;they hire a police escort to accompany a staff appraiser into my shop. Most appraisers that do show up have worked for other companies and prior to being hired by company X have had no “fear” of coming to our shop. Recently they were not sending police escorts but the steering tactics have started again. Even the appraiser supervisor says it’s rediculous and is a waste of money but he is fear for his job.
    Just lost a 10k repair to a ball sucker down the street. I would be interested to know if anyone has sued the other guys and if anything good has come out of it.

    they usually don’t get to my door because they “inform” the customer how bad our shop is and how much fear we put into the appraiser.

    By the way we have won numerous awards for our paint and restoration services,and repair collision damaged vehicles with the same mind set…has to be as close to perfect as we can get it.

  13. mini me on Sat, 3rd May 2008 7:11 am
  14. Rob, you are not alone. Why don’t you post this on http://www.prodiscussions.com.

  15. DICKIE HENSLEY on Fri, 15th Jan 2010 9:11 am
  16. NO BUT GEICO HAS PULLED ONE FROM MY SHOP

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