According to current Indiana law, insureds have the right to approve the type of body parts used to repair their vehicles for up to six years—the model year of the car plus five. House Bill 1559, originally introduced in January by House Representative Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, would have extended this right to third-party claimants.
“The bill would have helped protect consumers,” said Doug Martin, president of the Indiana Auto Body Association. “Instead of having to file a claim through their own insurance company, the third-party carrier would have had to abide by the same rules as they would as if it were their own policyholder.”
“It’s just a matter of fairness,” said Pierce. “You always feel like you’re at a disadvantage when you’re dealing with insurance companies. I think anything that the legislature can do to create equitable policies is something we ought to do for consumers.”
Pierce introduced the bill after being contacted by a constituent who was involved in an automobile accident. The other driver was at fault and the constituent requested that factory original parts be used on his vehicle. The third-party insurance company informed him that OEM parts are only allowed when using a first-party’s own insurance company.
“He didn’t think that made much sense and I have to agree,” said Pierce. “When I first heard that, I assumed he was mistaken or there was some kind of loophole in the law that was inadvertently put in there.”
Pierce then contacted the Legislative Services Agency, a non-partisan department that conducts research for the legislature, to check the statute and find out if it was a correct interpretation. He soon realized that in fact, it was.
“That’s the reason I went ahead and drafted a bill that basically creates parity,” said Pierce. “If you have that right with your own insurer, you should have that right when dealing with a third-party’s insurer when they were at fault in the accident.”
He talked to the committee chair and others involved in insurance issues. “My impression is that the insurance industry obviously has lobbyists and a fair amount of influence on decisions made by the legislature,” said Pierce. “My conclusion is that the insurance industry said they didn’t like that bill and therefore, it didn’t get a hearing.”
The bill, which would have been effective July 1, essentially died and the legislative session is finished for this year. Bills can be introduced again beginning in late November and the next legislative session starts in early January.
The question now is what to do next. Pierce is contemplating whether to introduce a bill and hopes to obtain enough persuasive powers to ensure the bill is heard or hopes there is an opportunity to offer an amendment to another insurance-related bill and attempt to get the bill adopted on the House floor.
In the meantime, he is inviting body shops and other interested parties in the state of Indiana to contact their state representative and/or senator and explain why they think the loophole needs to be closed. “It’s a great time to do this during the summer and early fall because most legislators are back home in their communities.”
Martin also stressed the importance of body shops getting involved. “The main thing is getting representation and helping our other representatives in Indiana understand why it’s important for all consumers across the state and how it will protect them in the event of a loss,” he said.