Most of us are probably familiar with this famous line screamed by a TV ex-anchorman while on air in the film “Network” (1976): "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
Doug Marshall, the owner of Autotrends in Oakland, CA, can relate. He has filed more than 100 complaints with the California Department of Insurance (CA-DOI) in the last decade with little satisfaction. He reached his breaking point after a recent case involving Farmer's Insurance.
He eventually won the case on behalf of his customer, but Marshall isn't happy about how it went down.
"All I want them to do is what they're supposed to do," he said. "The insurance companies know that there is no accountability or enforcement, so they aren't worried about them. It's a complete waste of time, and that's why I have been filing fewer complaints altogether within the past two years."
Most shops don't have the time to file complaints and go to court. There is the fear factor as well.
"Most body shops are afraid to speak out against the CA-DOI, and they don't want to rock the boat because they're afraid to lose their DRPs," he said. "I've tried to get someone else to talk on the record about this, but they all get cold feet. They have told me off the record that they agree with me 100 percent, but they don't want to get involved."
The final straw involved a recent case in which Marshall was embroiled for more than a year. It led to six different court appearances before he won.
"I don't really feel like I can say that we won because in the end, all we received was the money that was owed to us," he said. "We got a 2014 Hyundai here, and it required a new quarter panel that we included in our initial estimate. Farmer's denied it and when they lost, they appealed, so we had to wrestle with them after two months of back-and-forth. The car should have been here in the shop for 7--10 days max, but it sat here for 60 days and the storage fees kept adding up.
"They also tried to make us use aftermarket parts, but the third-party claimant wanted his car returned back to OEM. It was a huge waste of time to receive what we should have gotten from the start."
Marshall built his case by consulting I-CAR and providing supporting documentation.
"I told the people at Farmer's that they didn't follow two insurance regulations, but that didn't change anything,” he said. “Department regulations are being treated by the insurers like they never existed and they're obviously not enforced. Both parties ignore emails and phone calls and the idea is to wear you down and give up, but they got the wrong guy. The insurance companies aren't worried at all about CA-DOI, and they lean on each other to make sure nothing happens."
Marshall has had to explain CA-DOI regulations to both the department and insurers more than a few times, he said.
"On several occasions, I have had to explain a CA-DOI regulation to someone from an insurance company, and I can tell they're completely unfamiliar with what I'm talking about. If they don't even know the regulations, how can they possibly be enforced?” he said.
Marshall isn't satisfied with his most recent decision because he knows there will be more cases just like it right around the corner.
"The CA-DOI is supposed to be here to protect the consumer, and that's the whole purpose of the regulations, obviously," he said. "Shops often get caught in the middle, but in the end all we want to do is perform a good repair and be fairly compensated for it. Their policies say ‘pre-accident condition,’ but then the insurers wrestle with us when we try to do that. I'm tired of fighting with them, but I guess it's necessary if you're a body shop trying to do business in California."
The real loser in all of this is the consumer due to the lack of enforcement by the CA-DOI, Marshall said.
"We expect the insurance companies to cut costs and save money, but if they're going to ask us to take shortcuts that result in unsafe vehicles out on the road, that's wrong,” he said.
Below is a departmental response from the California Department of Insurance:
"The California Department of Insurance (CDI) cannot comment on specific cases; however it takes its regulatory role very seriously.
“Over the past several years the department has adopted significant and strong regulations addressing such issues as aftermarket parts, reasonable repairs, anti-steering and labor rate surveys in order to ensure that insurance consumers (and the repair shops they use) receive a reasonable and fair payment from insurers in order to properly and safely repair their damaged vehicles. We also successfully fought back legislation last year that would have weakened the labor rate survey and anti-steering regulations. While these efforts did not solve every dispute that may arise, they have gone a long way toward leveling the playing field between insurers and collision repair shops.
“Not every dispute between insurers and repair shops can be resolved by CDI--- especially if it involves a difference of opinion on operations or procedures that involve technical judgment, or if the facts are in dispute. More often than not, both of these factors are central in disputes that come to the department. We strive to be impartial, equitable and fair.
“Contrary to Mr. Marshall’s assertion, our records reflect that Mr. Marshall filed significantly less than 100 complaints in the last 10 years. Also, we disagree with Mr. Marshall’s description of the specific case he outlines and CDI’s participation in that case. We also disagree that Mr. Marshall 'had to explain CA-DOI regulations to both the department and insurers.' CDI drafted and adopted these regulations and are fully versed in them.
“Over the years, we have met with Mr. Marshall on several occasions to discuss his cases and the claims laws in general. From our contact with Mr. Marshall, it appears he may disagree with how these regulations should be interpreted or may misunderstand which types of disputes fall with these regulations. While our regulatory authority does not extend to resolve all cases brought to our attention, CDI is able to resolve a significant number of disputes we receive from collision repair shops. We encourage repair shops to continue to contact us with these disputes so we can work to mediate the issues and hold insurers accountable for compliance with insurance claims practices laws."