Q: Can you tell us about the situation that happened in 2009 in regard to the alleged insurance fraud and arrests?
A: I remember this experience like it was yesterday. My father, sister and one of our employees, Sal, all thought this would ruin us. They were terrified. I wasn’t though. I knew the charges were ridiculous. I knew they didn’t have a case against us because I run an honest business. Before this point, we were actually part of many direct repair programs (DRPs). We found ourselves fighting on a daily basis with many of these insurance companies as to how to repair a customer’s vehicle.
Barry’s Auto Body in Staten Island, New York, was established in 1986.
As other shops in this industry know, going against the grain of the insurance industry is like wrestling with an 800-pound Gorilla. I feel that all they care about is cheaper aftermarket/counterfeit parts that sometimes void the manufacturer's warranty. The more I advocated on behalf of my customers, the more these companies fought me. It seemed they weren’t passing on their savings to the customers, nor were they paying their registered shops to repair the vehicles properly.
We felt they were putting pressure on us to cut corners and I was determined to let my customers know about it. I started speaking up more and standing up for my customers’ rights even louder. They fought me tooth and nail. Then a certain insurer started making complaints to the state about allegations that simply were not true and the state arrested us.
In court, I remember the judge criticizing the assistant district attorney for even making the arrest. The judge eventually just dismissed the cases against us personally. They spent hundreds of man-hours with no conviction against any one of us. We fought it to the end.
I learned a lot from this experience. I learned that it’s up to me to know the laws for our shop and customers. I have spent a countless number of sessions with lawyers studying insurance regulations and business practices law. This way, I am sure that I know my rights and the rights of my customers. We actually have a law firm we work with on a regular basis to help us and our customers stand up for ourselves. We have even spoken to former judges to find out what they thought about this situation.
As far as the outcome, I thought customers would be afraid to use my shop again after the arrest. It actually had the opposite effect. I had customers who I haven’t seen for years coming by to make sure we were OK. Some customers even saw the article in the paper and remembered they needed their cars repaired. Today, the size of our business has more than doubled since 2009.