Guest column: Auto body shops don’t owe insurers documentationBy on
Business Practices | Insurance | Legal | Repair Operations
Editor’s Note: We’ve run stories examining the notion that thorough documentation of a repair can eliminate much insurer-repairer friction and consistently get a shop paid for legitimate work done. Earlier this year, an insurance adjuster confirmed that such an approach certainly works at his carrier.
However, Auto Damage Experts President Barrett Smith has offered a counterpoint to the documentation philosophy. Smith argues that barring a direct repair program requirement, body shops are under no obligation to expend such a documentation effort and that adjusters demanding such support smacks of treating shops as “guilty of fraud or deception until proven innocent.” He also in a side note questioned whether an insurer who understood the necessity of a certain procedure could knowingly refuse it or omit it from an initial estimate. (Though as one attorney has pointed out, the body shop is the one legally responsible for evaluating the vehicle and fixing it properly — the insurer’s estimate is not a repair blueprint.)
We’ve opted to present his comments here in this guest column as a counterpoint:
By Barrett Smith
Insurers are way off-base when they withhold payment for processes and materials that they know should be done but don’t provide for them… unless they are requested and only then when proof that they were performed is provided!
This is where the liability could be set squarely on an insurer’s lap!
“So…based upon your ongoing training and education, you knew the procedure was needed, but because the repairer didn’t request or list it in their repair estimate, you didn’t include it in the estimate of repair you provided to the customer…who just so happens was recently injured due to this process not being done?”
This philosophy: for an insurer to “Hold them down to what they want” when the average consumer doesn’t know what they need or should want is, at best, one of the following:
- Gross Incompetence…or
- Intentional Misrepresentation
I agree with and encourage our repairer client repairers to properly documenting the recommended repair procedures but doing so to protect themselves (CYA) from post repair issues and potential liabilities. I also believe that if an insurer places itself in the role of preparing estimates for repairs…they too should be held to the same standard and conduct the necessary research for a proper and thorough repair and provide the recommended compensation to enable it…or… get out of the business of estimating repairs! Leave that responsibility to the expert repair professionals.
Insurers aren’t the police or Gestapo! Repairers have nothing to prove or “show” to any insurer (unless perhaps a DRP participant)… or to stand guilty of fraud or deception until proven innocent!
Insurers have the contractual duty to pay claims…not manage or oversee the collision repair industry! They owe for proper and thorough repairs regardless if the repairs are undertaken or not! They owe the policyholder or the consumer injured by their insured’s negligence, and have a legal, fiduciary and in most states, a statutory duty to pay claims properly, thoroughly and expeditiously!
If an insurer questions whether or not something was performed…they can always perform a post-repair inspection! It’s really that easy…even though it’s truly none of your business unless it’s made so. Consider that if a consumer elects to not repair their vehicle; you’re still obligated to pay them for the entire repair including pinch-weld repair and required welding! No one is obligated to provide you photos of it actually being done! It’s simply ludicrous and illustrates just how far some insurers will go in their efforts to withhold rightful entitlements of policyholders and claimants and their efforts to keep their boot on the neck of collision repairers and why the collision repair industry has gotten in the mess it is today.
If it needs to be done…why not pay for it! Pay what you owe and if you have some reason to believe a repairer didn’t perform something they received payment to do…advise your insured or claimant to report it to the local authorities and have it investigated! Not paying for something that is known to be needed done may make the insurer liable.
The insurer can do their job and seek and acquire documentation to support what they’re providing is for needed procedures…it shouldn’t be based solely upon what is requested and proven by the repairer! Repairers are experts in their field and should not be considered liars and cheats until they prove otherwise! If a shop commits fraud or deceptive business practices they should be held accountable then and only when it’s been proven they did something wrong…not considered to be guilty of something until proven innocent!
If you question whether or not something was performed…do a post repair inspection! It’s really that easy…even though it’s truly none of your business unless it’s made so.
Consider that if a consumer elects to not repair their vehicle; you’re still obligated to pay them for the entire repair including pinch-weld repair and required welding! No one is obligated to provide you photos of it actually being done! It’s simply ludicrous and illustrates just how far some insurers will go in their efforts to withhold rightful entitlements of policyholders and claimants and their efforts to keep their boot on the neck of collision repairers and why the collision repair industry has gotten in the mess it is today.
If a repairer is using a mechanical measuring system (which is proven to be extremely accurate) it will not enable a printed report… and if they use such equipment, they aren’t entitled to be compensated for their efforts!?
Whoever stated repairers work for insurers and bow to their demands!? Repairers work for and must answer to their true customer…the vehicle owner! There’s no mandate (unless perhaps a DRP participant) for a repairer to take photos to prove what they do! If insurers want photos to show their bosses that what they paid for was being done (so they don’t get in trouble)…go for it! Stop by and take photos throughout the repair… but just don’t delay the repair as it may cause storage charges and/or stall tie up to accrue!
Insurers don’t require anything from repairers! They are not paying the repairer…they are providing compensation on behalf of their policyholder… and the recipient (consumer) is paying the repairer…not the insurer!
Barrett Smith is the president of Auto Damage Experts.
Featured image: Documentation can smooth the way for a shop being reimbursed by an insurer, but is a shop really obligated to provide it at all? (andresr/iStock)