"Who gets an authorization to repair every time a car comes in?" Bryant surveyed the crowd. "How many of you work off an insurance estimate? How many don't write your estimate? Is your auto body license number on your estimates and your business cards? Do you give a warranty on your work and list the terms of that warranty for your consumer? Do you give notice to your customer that they have the right to receive replacement parts?"
Each hypothetical question that Bryant posed led to a variety of reactions as hands went up and down in response to these basic business practices. After polling the crowd, Bryant passed out documents to attendees that broke down Department of Insurance (DOI) regulations and highlighted important passages to help shop owners find success in a challenging industry.
"We're all familiar with the ways that insurers complicate our daily business," Bryant said. "And everyone in this room knows that these practices are not once in a blue moon. They happen regularly. But the Department of Insurance says that they cannot take action against an insurer unless the damaging thing the insurer is doing can be proven to be a 'general business practice.'"
The DOI regulations over Unfair Claims Settlement Practices state that any poor business practices on behalf of insurers must be "committed in conscious disregard to the law or...committed with such frequency as to indicate a general business practice to engage in that type of conduct."
As Bryant explained to the crowd, this would be the equivalent of if "a police officer had to catch you running a red light three times in one week before he could give you a ticket."
So in order to truly take a step toward bettering the industry for all shops across the state, Bryant offered shop owners in attendance one large piece of advice.
"When you encounter an insurer who says, 'We don't pay for that,' or 'You're the only one who charges for that,' do yourself and your fellow shop owners a favor and submit a complaint to the DOI,” Bryant said. “If we work together as an industry, we can get changes made."
After going through the regulations set forth by the DOI, attendees shared some grievances with one another, commiserating about the unfair practices facing them as shop owners and sharing practices that have worked for them.
"The best thing you can do is educate your consumer," said one attendee. "You have to be more involved in how you handle your customer and your claims. Explain to them their rights as your client and your rights as a shop. Tell them everything you're doing, why you're doing it, and how it's going to help them."
Bryant also brought up some of the resources provided by AASP/NJ to help shops in their day-to-day business, including the AASP/NJ Hot Line, Labor Pool, equipment exchange, insurance benefit programs and the AASP/NJ Legal Defense Fund.
"There are certain things facing us that we won't solve here tonight," Bryant explained. "We may not even get them solved completely through [the DOI] regulations. I believe the only way we will really make this industry better is through standing our ground, working together and by bringing the terrible things insurers are doing to us to a court of law."
For more information on this meeting and AASP/NJ, please visit aaspnj.org or contact AASP/NJ Executive Director Charles Bryant at 732-992-8909. For more information on AASP/NJ's NORTHEAST® Automotive Services Show, please visit aaspnjnortheast.com.