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Thursday, 16 November 2017 16:34

ABAT Looks to Enhance Industry Standards, Starts with Consumer Education

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Following October's $31.5 million verdict against John Eagle Collision Center in Dallas, the Auto Body Association of Texas (ABAT) began engaging in conversations about holding its members to a higher standard of safety, part of which includes consumer education. 

ABAT Executive Director Jill Tuggle suggested, "We are in the early stages of this idea, but we definitely want to help make OEM procedures more accessible. We've also discussed having shops who join ABAT swear an oath to do their best, work for the customers, and look up every procedure. We've got to take the word 'recommendation' more seriously."


"Following those recommendations is important because the OEM spent millions on engineering for safety. They are the gold standard for how the car should be fixed---who could possibly know the vehicle better? Despite arguments that the OE recommendations are not 'requirements,' the jury proved they ARE requirements in their ruling. People want to argue the facts of the case, but all that matters is that the shop didn't follow OEM procedures. Shops following OE recommendations are adhering to the best information available so they are protected from liability, and cannot be accused of negligence."


ABAT President Burl Richards added, "OEM recommendations are based on the manufacturer that built the vehicle. They spend millions of dollars and countless hours on research and testing. No one could know better than them how to repair a vehicle, and deviating from these recommendations can potentially put you out of business. Hopefully, they will learn that there are potential life-threatening consequences of deviating from the OEM-recommended repair processes and procedures. Members have stated that this has been an eye-opening experience, and many of them have addressed this with their employees just to make sure that everyone understands the importance of following OEM procedures."  


Although industry leaders have given warnings about the legal repercussions of shops’ actions for several years, Tuggle pointed out that the industry has not taken heed.


Tuggle stressed, "It's here. All shops have to follow OEM procedures going forward, and this definitely gives shops a stronger case to get paid for these procedures, but it's hard to say if this will change the insurance industry's perspective."


"How it impacts the insurance industry is yet to be seen. Some shops that were not following procedures will make changes and choose to repair vehicles based on the OEM's recommendations, and others will continue to do business as usual, some in fear of alienating the insurance companies," Richards agreed. "Hopefully, this puts every person who repairs a vehicle on notice that it is you who is ultimately responsible for the repairs---certainly not the insurance company.  This has already brought a huge awareness to the industry, and hopefully, it will impact how every shop repairs a vehicle.


"Anyone who has been in this business for an extended period of time has to be concerned [with] whether or not they have ever deviated from the OEM recommendations, whether on purpose or purely because the industry has changed tremendously over the last few years, and we were repairing vehicles the same way that we always have. I am not pointing the finger at anyone; I look at myself first, and I know that this issue has made me a better collision repair center. A lot of this information is only available to you if you are spending time, resources and money to look for it. Many of us are in our shops focused on the next repair, and it is time to get outside your box and educate not only yourself, but the customer and the industry.”


Tuggle agrees that consumer awareness is critical and that consumers must learn to understand that collision repair professionals are focused on safely repairing vehicles, which sometimes requires them to request procedures that insurers object to paying.


Recognizing the need for consumer education, ABAT participated in a meeting at Attorney Todd Tracy's office on Oct. 24, alongside John Kopriva, President of the Houston Auto Body Association (HABA) and representatives from Texas Watch, a consumer advocacy group focused on insurance matters that negatively impact consumers.


"Texas Watch is interested in the difficulties shops face in order to properly repair vehicles due to insurance policies or laws," Tuggle shared. "We are starting an initiative with them to educate consumers on what makes a good shop and what their rights are when they're in an accident. People need to know what's going on."

 

Kopriva noted, "The meeting was very positive, and Todd Tracy is very consumer-oriented. He's going to hold people accountable for doing the right thing."


Tuggle is confident that ABAT members will do the right thing, and plans to focus on attracting high caliber shops that truly care about consumer safety. 


"After all," she stated, "ABAT's mission is to create an environment of professionalism, respect, accountability, excellence, enthusiasm and the ability to collect fair and reasonable compensation for collision repairers who properly restore vehicles to their safe, pre-loss condition. The goal is for our website to be a tool consumers can use to find a safe shop that holds itself to the high standards ABAT feels are imperative to consumer safety."


For more information about ABAT, visit abat.us.

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