Thursday, 30 September 2004 10:00

When insurers come for you, will anyone be left standing?

Written by Dick Strom

One notable feature, common to many European landscapes, is castles and similar fortifications on distant hilltops. For many early peoples, these were their only means of resistance - the only thing that stood between them and certain enslavement, death, or much worse at the hands of marauders, warring factions, or conquering nations.

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The Great Wall of China, erected to keep ravaging hordes out, is said to be the only man-made structure so large that it is visible to the naked eye from space. I can't begin to comprehend the manpower, time and materials consumed in the construction of this mammoth undertaking, but it served its purpose well for hundreds of years.

Rather than submit to Roman rule, Jewish zealots retreated to the natural hilltop preserve of Masada, from which they successfully fended off the greatest fighting machine of that time for several years. There's something disquietingly majestic, yet incredibly pitiful, about such fortifications, massive and seemingly impenetrable, and yet cold and lonely in their exclusion from the rest of the world. These give mute testimony to the seeming inability of men to deal with others in a reasonable, honest way, and to live peaceably with each other.

Heritage of violence

Like it or not, this has been our heritage since Cain slew his brother, Abel. Control is a fact of life that collision repairers must deal with on a daily basis. Competitiveness is a strange animal, in that we're often so focused on our own matters that we feel we can't be bothered with those of others. Not being able to see the forest for the trees - or just not caring when we can see - leaves us all vulnerable to aggression by those who desire to control us.

The first great world empire - Babylonia, fell when overconfident that their fortress was impenetrable, and in a drunken stupor, the Babylonians couldn't defend themselves against the Medes and Persians who had simply diverted the river running under the protecting walls of Babylon, and marched in unopposed.

The "glory that was Rome" went down in the history books in shame when her citizens became proud, glutinous, and more interested in "bread and (gladiator) games." But the fall of these and other world empires didn't happen overnight. Rather, it was the obvious end result of letting so many little things slip; individually, these were no big deal. But with the multitude of concessions came ruin.

In the article, Will Anyone Speak Up For You When The Insurance Industry Comes After Your Business, (Collision Expert magazine, July 2004), author Jamie T. Alligood immediately grabbed my attention with the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, a decorated German WW1 U-boat captain who spent several years in a concentration camp for speaking out against Hitler. Concerning the divide-and-conquer tactics employed by Hitler and other oppressors throughout history, the widely quoted Niemoller stated:

"First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak out because I was not a Catholic. Then they came for me, and by that time there was nobody left to speak up."

Divide and conquer

Alligood's article describes how Hitler conquered groups of people using the same tactics as predatory animals employ in dividing certain of their prey from the safety of the herd. Not to in any way insinuate a connection between Hitler's tactics or those of predatory animals, but the practice of many insurers in conquering through dividing the repair industry is a lesson that many in the collision repair industry seem hell-bent on forgetting or ignoring.

Methodically eliminating or otherwise hamstringing his opposition one group at a time, Hitler was well on his way to accomplishing his goal of world domination, had it not been that Allied forces were literally jerked out of lethargic denial, and kicked and shoved into action to defeat the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

While no reasonable person enjoys fighting, from the eve of man's history individuals and groups of individuals have often had no other choice than to bear arms or perish. Though many in the collision repair industry can't or won't see the writing on the wall - still stubbornly denying that the majority of this industry faces extinction - a simple look at the history of collision repair should convince even the most skeptical among us.

"When Insurers contrived the Direct Repair system, assuring us this was 'the wave of the future,' though I knew it was too good to be true, I became a DRP shop." Whether or not you belong to DRPs, you can't deny that DRP-relationships have been a major contributor to splitting the repair industry. Many who originally looked at DRP relationships as a cash-cow, now look at the system with a jaundiced eye. Direct Repair has destroyed the free- enterprise system of business as it relates to collision repair. And when some insurers promote their claim that Direct Repair actually enhances free-enterprise, they find no shortage of stooges among repairer ranks to agree with them - those who will say anything to get another repair directed to their door.

"When Insurers heavily infiltrated, influenced, and watered down repairer associations, in the spirit of hearing all sides of the issue, I did nothing to stop them." Have you ever heard of an insurer association that accepts the attendance and influence of collision repairers in their decision-making meetings? Ever? The reason: insurers care nothing what you or I think. And why should they, when the great majority of our group regularly fall for, or at best don't confront and protest, their lies.

Many insurers don't have the time of day for the collision industry because this industry doesn't display any semblance of mental capacity to be of further service to them, than aphids have to ants. And they never will have the time to honestly and openly listen to us until this industry gets together on the true issues.


They have, however, successfully invested much effort into keeping us separated, through such avenues as promoting the use of so-called "CAPA-certified" junk imitation parts as "equal to or better than OEM," flood our market with "90-day DRP wonders" to keep the rest of us so occupied scrambling for the next job, rather than anticipating and stopping their next move to separate us even more. While we're busily putting out a thousand fires insurers have lit, they're lighting more, creating a smoke-screen to hide their true motives. Any repairer aware of industry issues knows this is true.

"When Insurers initiated insurer- owned shops, since they initially didn't plant one in my back yard, I did nothing to stop their proliferation." My hat goes off to Illinois shop owner Ernie Wisniewski for his proactive efforts in attempting to stop the construction of a Sterling-Allstate shop in his neighborhood. If not for lily-livered city fathers who crumbled at the threat of lawsuits by Sterling, Ernie's efforts to marshal his community and fellow repairers to protest this intrusion might have stopped it in its tracks and encouraged other communities to do the same. Ernie's comment following his defeat was that he discovered that "shops have no desire to fight for a cause unless it is in their own back yard."

Making every possible attempt, he still couldn't muster the support of a united collision industry behind him. He later commented, "Shops must commit to supporting good repairer associations and groups that have a heart for this industry." The one good thing resulting from his efforts against Allstate-Sterling though, is that it slapped into consciousness many within the repair industry that this could also happen to me!

"When Insurers demanded that, being one of their DRPs I should also do their paperwork, I dutifully went in hock for additional office help and accounting equipment, because by now they had the clout to steer business away from me." Before dropping out of a certain insurer's DRP program, a shop owner friend had been forced to hire an additional office person just to keep up with all the paperwork and supporting pictures required by this one insurer - all at discounted labor, materials and parts rates, of course - just for the privilege of servicing this insurer. He reported that on a typical $5,000 repair they would have to snap and process around 35 pictures and submit each before proceeding with repairs. Now, that's a real partnership based on total trust! He soon dropped out of this farce and, of course, another shop quickly lapped up the great opportunity. Insurers know there will always be one more sucker waiting.

"When Insurers demeaned the 1963 Consent Decree as being an archival, worthless document of no relevance to business as we know it today, I did nothing in support of the efforts of www.ConsentDecree.com." This document, like others protecting the fundamental rights of collision repairers and consumers, has never been remanded, and therefore is still in effect. It's just not being enforced presently, largely because repairers have found it much easier to believe the insurers' lie. When will shops stop worshiping every line that insurers postulate? Their "the end justifies the means" history should give us a hint. Yet, how many times have we been told the lie "no one else charges for that"- and not challenged it?

Like the 1963 Consent Decree, there is presently in place in each state, laws sufficient to keep insurers in their place of paying legitimate costs associated with making their insured or claimant whole, while staying out of our business of being collision repair specialists. There are also sufficient state-specific laws protecting collision repairers' rights to conduct business in an honest manner, free from insurer-directing, and like abuses. I'd be willing to bet, though, that you've never read the right-to-repair laws of your state, and never taken your state's Insurance Commissioner and/or Attorney General to task. Not challenging obvious lies is the same as believing and accepting them.

"When Insurers ruthlessly steered- against non-DRP shops, since I was a DRP I did nothing to stop them (after all, that leaves more work for me!)" As we all know, many insurers are waging a battle to put non-DRP shops out of business. The heightened occurrence of steering today over that of a few years ago, is proof. Interestingly, in the recent hype over insurer-owned shops, DRP shops finally got a chance to see what it feels like to be seriously steered-against. Some were even alarmed enough to the point they wanted non-DRP shops to join with them to legislate out insurer-owned shops. Many who had invested heavily to please their insurer "partners" found their partnership was, in reality, a slippery slope.

"When Insurers dropped their DRP agreements with smaller, not-as-cost- effective, not-as-insurer-dependent shops, because I was large DRP I did nothing to protest (because, again, that leaves even more work for me!)" This is getting to be quite commonplace, and indications are that it will be more so in the near future. The reason: you as a Direct Repairer for insurers have never been anything but a tool for their use to further their goal of total shop control. So, how does it feel to be used? You'll appreciate this even more when your turn comes to get dumped for no reason other than that you are no longer of use to your insurer-buddies. But what did you expect? You wouldn't keep a worn-out ratchet in your toolbox just for sentimental reasons; so where do DRP repairers come off expecting insurers to honor their original vows?

Remember what Mom used to say: "There's no honor among thieves." You and I never were anything to insurers other than a means to an end. And we never will be anything else as long as we remain separated, not willing to think of anyone's needs but our own.

"Finally, when in forced total dependence to Insurers, I called for help, there was no one left remaining in the collision industry to speak up for me."

Dick Strom, Modern Collision Rebuild, 9270 Miller Road, NE, Bainbridge Island, Washington 98110; (206) 842-3621; e- mail: moderncol@qwest.net.