Executive Director Alysia Hanks notes, “overall, the meeting and turnout was excellent, and I think the Attorney General is on top of things! He was present with some of his other attorneys who are working on our issues, and they had some great updates to share with us. I don’t think I’m alone when I say this, but Mr. Caldwell very much exceeded my expectations with what he and his staff of lawyers have accomplished so far. I heard the comment ‘blown away’ when I asked others to describe the meeting. Mr. Caldwell and four other attorneys are now working non-stop on our issues.”
The meeting began with Chairman Lynn Lejeune welcoming attendees and leading the group in prayer, followed by Vice Chairman Derek Stubbs who introduced LaCIA’s Board of Directors and discussed some of the association’s goals and accomplishments.
When Caldwell was introduced, he assured the group that he and his team are working diligently on resolving the collision repair industry’s issues, and he provided an update on their progress thus far. Because State Farm is the largest insurance company in LA and all other insurers follow their lead, he first set his sights on this insurance giant, learning that they did put up the money for PartsTrader. His office has also begun a Civil Investigation Demand where the Attorney General orders the insurance companies to produce documents which they would not ordinarily produce in a regular deposition, such as surveys and internal policies; he also pointed out his finding that insurers aren’t even attempting to hide the fact that they are steering their customers to DRP facilities!
Although his office is still in the discovery stages of the process, the Attorney General’s influence in itself is beneficial to legislative initiatives since politicians are less apt to ignore their pleas for help. They also plan to produce some ad campaigns to advise consumers to read their insurance policies and encourage them to understand their rights during the repair process. Attorney Stacy noted that the Attorney General’s office may also look into possible tax evasion on the part of the insurance companies. Despite this progress, Hanks cautions “it will take a while to get this situation we find ourselves in today resolved, or even to see any movement on it. We did not get into this situation overnight, and it won’t go away that fast either. We need to have patience.”
Next, Ishee updated attendees on several matters, beginning with the fact that he cannot comprehend why any repair facility would willingly join a DRP since he can find nothing in those agreements that benefits the shops whatsoever; his feelings about PartsTrader are the same. He noted that by signing those agreements, it was like relinquishing ownership of the shop to the insurance company. Furthermore, Ishee emphasized that the repair professionals are responsible for properly fixing their customers’ vehicles, plus if a shop has a signed work authorization from the customer and the insurer sends their vehicle to another facility, that is a breach of contract for which they can be sued.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s office is working with several other Attorney Generals throughout the South, and they have also reached out to their state’s Insurance Commissioner’s office to inform them that they will be pursuing State Farm, with or without the Commissioner’s support. Hanks recalls, “they wanted to make it clear what their main objectives were, and that was to attempt to get rid of DRPs, to get things changed through legislation, and to make sure everyone knows the law on both sides. They want insurers to stick to what they do, which is writing policies, and let the body shops do what they do, which is fixing cars. They believe the insurers shouldn’t have their hands in our businesses.”
After the Attorney General’s presentation concluded, several additional speakers provided updates on some industry trends. Abel Cantrell of Advantage Collision Center in Houma LA spoke about who really owns your shop, you or the insurance company, and he also distributed instructions on “How to Use Twitter” so no one has an excuse not to get connected to other shops. Ray Gunder of Gunder’s Auto Repair in Lakeland FL discussed how insurers pushed him to the edge and why he started suing them to get things done, nothing he has not lost a case because “right is right!” Next, Mike Parker of Parker Auto Body in West Monroe LA shared the measures he has taken to maintain control of his business which includes installing video and audio surveillance in and around his shop as well as a module to record every call made to or from his business.
LaCIA’s Board of Directors is very grateful to all of their guests who spoke at the meeting. Vice Chairman Derek Stubbs stated “we have to be excited about the turnout and have to keep the momentum we are establishing going in a positive direction and not let it slip away.” Board member Pat Graham believes the Attorney General and his staff “had a very positive vibe that I think was felt by everyone.” All in all, Hanks believes the meeting “was an incredible success! We are taking back the industry ladies and gentlemen!”
LaCIA will hold their next meeting on July 8 in Lafayette.