Ohio attorney Erica Eversman, who has long been an advocate for consumers and collision repairers in legal battles with insurers, has recently become one of about 30 volunteer consumer liaisons to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).
The consumer liaisons attend the NAIC’s three meetings per year that draw state insurance commissioners and their staff, along with insurance industry representatives.
The NAIC focuses on insurance regulatory issues, often drafting or, at least, attempting to draft model legislation states may adopt. In the early 2000s, for example, the NAIC unsuccessfully attempted to draft a proposed regulation for states to consider the use of non-OEM parts.
Eversman said the NAIC is now largely focused on healthcare issues.
“There is nothing going on right now at the NAIC involving auto insurance, but we intend to change that,” Eversman said.
Presentations made at NAIC meetings help lead the organization to have one of its committees take on a particular issue, she said. She presented at NAIC on the John Eagle Collision Center lawsuit. The lawsuit referred to the dealership collision shop that was sued for not following OEM repair procedures on a vehicle, in which a Texas couple was injured by, she added. Eversman said she focused on the need “to have insurance companies pay for OEM procedures that affect safety.”
When asked if that would drive up insurance rates, Eversman said it may or may not.
“But even if it did, would you rather have insurance rates go up or would you rather have unsafe cars go back out on the road just so we can keep insurance rates down?” Eversman asked.
She also said auto insurers declining to pay for “proper, safe repairs” has repercussions for other insurers, such as the health insurer covering the costs of medical care for the couple hurt in the accident that led to the John Eagle lawsuit or the garage-keepers’ insurer covering the shop.
Eversman said California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara seemed particularly receptive after her presentation to work with her “on solving some of these issues for consumers,” and she sensed “immediate opportunities to be able to make a change” in New York, North Carolina, Colorado and Mississippi.
“This is not to say other states wouldn’t be interested, but I didn’t have any personal interactions [at the NAIC meeting] with some of the other states,” Eversman said.
Mississippi is one state in which repairers shouldn’t have trouble being paid for OEM repair procedures, she said. Following her presentation, Eversman spoke with Deputy Insurance Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Insurance, Mark Haire.
“Our commissioner already mandates the use of OEM procedures. We don’t have that issue,” Eversman said Haire told her. “That was the first I’d heard of that. That could be true, I don’t know, but that was the position they took.”
Eversman acknowledged that many collision repairers and shop associations have become frustrated with trying to get their state insurance regulators to address their concerns about some claims practices by auto insurers.
“Unfortunately, as I think we’ve all experienced, sometimes it seems as if the insurance commissioners are there to protect the insurance companies [rather than consumers],” Eversman said. “I certainly have had that experience.”
One message she said she received at an NAIC meeting centered on the idea that shops should file complaints about insurer practices with their state regulators.
“I told commissioners we sometimes get push-back—we’ve been told there are some states in which the department of insurance won’t take complaints from collision repairers—only from consumers,” Eversman said. “They told me no, that isn’t true.”
She said if shops are told that, they should contact her so she can address it with the state agency involved. Complaints directly from consumers may be better, she said, “but how is the consumer supposed to know why a roof needs to be welded rather than glued? They can’t know that.”
One state regulator told her they don’t have the authority to make factual determinations about who is at fault in some disputes, she said.
Getting complaints from multiple shops around a state—rather than a lot from one shop—can help demonstrate a pattern or practice and thus trigger an investigation, she added.
When submitting a complaint about an insurer’s refusal to pay for a necessary OEM repair procedure, she recommended shops to stick to the facts.
“Do not whine,” Eversman cautioned. “Tell them the proper way to repair the vehicle and let them know it’s a safety issue.”
The NAIC website offers links to each state’s insurance regulatory agency, including a link that shows how to file a complaint in each state.
Eversman also suggested that collision repairers support the re-election next year of Mike Causey, a retired life insurance executive and a former lobbyist for the North Carolina Autobody Association of Collision and Autobody Repair (NCACAR). Causey, a Republican, was in the news earlier this year after he alerted federal law enforcement about what he saw as an attempt to bribe him. The chairman of the Republican Party of North Carolina—one of four people indicted in the scheme—allegedly offered campaign contributions to Causey to help ensure special treatment for an insurance firm. All those indicted have denied the allegations.
“Mike is the guy who wore a wire for the FBI” after he told authorities of the alleged bribery attempt, Eversman said. “Mike is a friend of this industry. He’s willing to help the industry, but we have to keep him there.”
Eversman said that like the other consumer liaisons, she has a one-year term in the position at the NAIC, but can reapply this fall for another term.
“Some of the consumer liaisons have been with NAIC for 15-plus years and really know the various departments and how they operate,” she said.