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If there was a unifying theme to the presentations at the East Coast Resolution Forum and Leadership Meeting held in Secaucus, NJ, in March, a statement by Charlie Bryant may have summed it up as the session opened.
“No one can tell me that we don’t have a chance to change things in our industry,” said Bryant, executive director of the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP) of New Jersey, which hosted the event along with the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). “I don’t believe that.”
Bryant cited a list of people he sees as having an impact on the industry including Florida shop owner Ray Gunder, New York shop owner Greg Coccaro, New York-based consultant Larry Montanez, Ohio lawyer Erica Eversman, and Tony Lombardozzi of the Coalition For Collision Repair Excellence.
“They are challenging things and really making a change,” Bryant said. “They are just a few of the people who have said no longer will they accept just business as usual.”
On behalf of his association as well as the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC) and the New York State Auto Collision Technicians Association, Bryant presented an award at the event to SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg, another of the people the associations see as “inspiring others to have the courage to stand up. Everyone in the room knows the lengths you have gone through to help change our industry, the things that you’ve done over the years to help fix the industry,” Bryant told Schulenburg.
DMV changes in Connecticut
The number of people in the room for the annual event was curtailed somewhat by a snowstorm that hit much of the Northeast the night before. But as in the past, the meeting’s agenda consisted primarily of presentations by representatives of shop associations based in the Northeast.
Tony Ferraiolo, president of the ABAC, for example, discussed his association’s opposition to a proposed state law (HB 6495) that he said would give inspectors from the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, which licenses shops in that state, arrest-authority and would raise some paperwork violations to potentially the level of a Class B misdemeanor.
“So a good shop, trying to do the right thing, makes some simple clerical errors, and when they come into your shop and find paperwork violations, then your name gets put in the paper as a Class B misdemeanor,” Ferraiolo said. “What does that do to your business?”
Ferraiolo said the association also has launched a “Monday Morning Motivator,” a weekly fax or email reminder to member shops about one thing that can help improve the accuracy of their estimates or otherwise improve their business.
The association also organized an 8-week, $18,000 radio ad campaign to remind motorists that when it comes to collision repair, it’s “Your car, your choice,” and to urge them to choose a participating shop.
Ferraiolo also said that more than three years after an association-led class action lawsuit resulted in a jury award of $15 million against The Hartford, the money has yet to be received. The jury essentially found in 2009 that unfair trade practices by the insurer led to suppressed shop labor rates. Ferraiolo was unsure why there has been such a long delay in the judge’s issuing of a final judgment on the verdict in the case but said that he expects that to happen soon, which would also bolster a similar lawsuit pending against Progressive Insurance. He said attorneys continue to pursue the Progressive lawsuit despite not having received payment in either case.
“That’s telling you these class action lawsuits might have some merit for all of us when they pan out, but you’re talking 10 years before they are done,” Ferraiolo said. “That’s a long time. One of the named plaintiffs in the case has sold his shop in the meantime. So these class action lawsuits are important but not our total answer, and we’re committed to keeping them going.”
Battles in Vermont
Mike Parker of Parker’s Classic Auto Works in Rutland, VT, said that in the past year he’s aware of 13 third-party claimants who have filed complaints with his state’s Department of Insurance after insurers have attempted to take betterment as part of their auto insurance claims.
“Basically the complaint is: ‘I don’t want to be made better. I want to made whole. If you can’t make be whole without making me better, that’s not my problem,’” Parker said. “And all 13 of them have been paid in full. The Department found in their favor all 13 times.”
Parker said legislation (HB 362) has been introduced in Vermont that would place new restrictions on the use of non-OEM parts, including prohibiting their use on vehicles with 30,000 miles or less.
Parker said that may sound like a consumer-friendly bill, but he believes any insurer involvement in parts choice is unwarranted. Insurers, he said, have three options under the policy: pay it in cash, replace the vehicle, or repair the vehicle themselves, actually taking possession of the vehicle and getting it repaired and returning it to the insured. Insurers generally opt just to pay the claim rather than repair the vehicle themselves, he said, in which case “they owe the reasonable and necessary costs of repair, and have no right messing with the body shop or interfering in the contract between the shop and customer over what parts to use.”
That’s why Parker currently has five lawsuits pending against different insurance companies for unpaid repair costs for more than 200 customers who have signed assignment of proceeds forms, allowing Parker to sue on their behalf. The five suits range from just under $5,000 to as much as $49,000. Parker acknowledged that even if he wins the cases, Vermont law will prevent him from collecting for the legal fees he’s had to spend on the suits.
Different routes work
SCRS’ Schulenburg said the presentations and discussions at the East Coast Resolution Forum and Leadership Meeting demonstrate that “there are plenty of different ways to take back control and for collision repairers to get paid for the work that they’re doing.”
“There is no perfect way. There is no one right way,” Schulenburg said. “Because every business represented by the associations in this room is run differently and has a different model. And what’s right for Tony is right for Tony. And what’s right for Mike is right for Mike. And frankly, what Mike does and what Tony does are two different things. The reality of why we’re in this room is to talk about the different solutions that do exist within the industry, to pull ideas from each other and to use those to make our businesses better if we can and where we can. It’s not about a perfect solution and it’s not about saying this is the right way or the wrong way.”
The East Coast Resolution Forum and Leadership Meeting is held annually in conjunction with the NORTHEAST Automotive Services Show, which is scheduled next year for March 21-23.
John Yoswick, a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988, is also the editor of the weekly CRASH Network (for a free 4-week trial subscription, visit www.CrashNetwork.com). He can be contacted by email at: