Allstate lobbyist Bruce Spencer said that while the story of Matthew and Marcia Seebachan represented a “horrific case,” such instances didn’t happen frequently enough to merit a bill requiring shops and insurers to follow OEM repair procedures.
Spencer told the Montana Senate Highways and Transportation Committee during a Feb. 14 hearing on Senate Bill 251 that his philosophy is that a problem needs to be systemic before legislation is necessary.
The Seebachans were traveling in a 2010 Honda Fit on a 75 mph stretch of road in 2013 when a 2010 Toyota Tundra in the other lane hydroplaned into their path, leading to the Fit striking the right front quarter of the Tundra in a T-bone collision.
The Seebachans were seriously injured and trapped inside the burning Fit, which they had purchased used, unaware that body work had been done on the vehicle. Experts for the plaintiffs in Seebachan v. John Eagle Collision said in Texas court documents that the severity of the crash and the Seebachans’ injuries were the result of the body shop adhesive-bonding the Fit’s roof during a $8,500 hail repair in 2012 for the Fit’s prior owner. Honda OEM repair procedures demand the roof be welded.
KDFW in 2017 reported Matthew Seebachan, who was driving the Fit, suffered fourth-degree burns — the most serious kind — and was in the hospital for three years. Marcia Seebachan suffered significant injuries at the scene as well. “Three of my injuries could’ve killed me, two should’ve killed me,” she told KXAS in 2017.
A jury in 2017 ruled John Eagle Collision was responsible for $31.5 million of the $42 million they awarded the Seebachans. The couple later settled with the shop for an unspecified amount.
Spencer said while the Texas case involved an “extremely devastating auto accident,” he didn’t think the committee had heard about such an instance in Montana.
“I don’t think it’s a systemic problem,” Spencer said. He said they weren’t hearing about constant crashes or problems because repair procedures weren’t followed.
Systemic or not?
A collision repair legal expert has said that such cases are typically sealed. This makes it difficult to know how many such instances really exist.
Lawmakers could potentially get a sense of the problem by tracking instances where a facility has to redo or even outright buy a vehicle because of a problem encountered by the consumer or during a post-repair inspection. Insurers like Spencer’s might have some statistics on the issue related to direct repair program key performance indicators. (Assuming redos are a KPI rather than the vaguer notion of customer satisfaction.)
“Who Pays for What?” data last year revealed 60.5 percent of 488 surveyed shops reported researching OEM repair procedures at the time of the estimate either all or “Most of the time,” a big leap from the 48.8 percent of the 494 respondents in 2017.
However, only 24.8 percentage points of that 60.5 percent shops were researching procedures every time. The majority, 35.7 percentage points, still fell short of what experts advise should be done with their “most of the time” answer.
“This is a concern for us,” Mike Anderson, CEO of study co-author Collision Advice, said while presenting the data during a webinar on Subaru OEM repair procedures in December 2018.
The “Who Pays” studies may have a sampling bias in that they require shops to know of their existence and participate quarterly by following a link. This seems bound to capture repairers who are more engaged with the industry and to fly under the radar of other more insular body shops. Actual repair procedure usage industrywide might be far lower.
Montana Retail Association Chairwoman Sarah Swanson said safety concerns related to the repair process “are real,” but the bill wouldn’t make the road safer.
“This bill doesn’t do anything to solve safety on our roads,” she said.
Legal system, DOI
Senate Bill 251 would have required any “automobile repair business” to “conduct vehicle repairs in accordance with directives by the original equipment manufacturer necessary to restore the vehicle to its condition prior to needing repairs.”
The Senate Highways and Transportation Committee voted 6-4 Feb. 21 to table the bill, effectively killing it for the session.
Spencer said the legal system was the way to address the issue instead of the legislation.
Unfortunately, that creates a numbers game titled in favor of unethical insurers actively refusing to reimburse the cost of an OEM-required procedure if an insufficient number of out-of-pocket customers are motivated to invest the time and money to sue. For that matter, the same could be said for an unethical shop consistently turning out bad repairs and daring consumers to sue for the cost of a redo, but the regional nature of many repair businesses could ultimately make this tactic self-defeating. (A customer might not want to sue, but they certainly can leave bad word-of-mouth and reviews that turn your market against you.)
SB 251 would have forbidden insurers from disregarding “repair directives issued by an original equipment manufacturer.”
The Department of Insurance might be another option for policyholders if the bill remains dead for the session. Montana Department of Insurance Deputy Insurance Commissioner Bob Biskupiak in 2018 told the Society of Collision Repair Specialists “I don’t believe there is any specific statute, rule, or precedent that would require an insurer to recognize or adhere to any specific manufacturer recommendation for repair. (DOI Policy Holder Services) has always relied on the repair facility to say if this is or is not an industry ‘standard’ or ‘accepted’ method of repair.”
Buskupiak also told SCRS the DOI had successfully intervened on disputes over the quality or effect of alternative parts but didn’t say if the organization had addressed a complaint over procedures.
Featured image: This 2010 Honda Fit burned following a collision with a hydroplaning 2010 Toyota Tundra. The body shop which installed its roof lost a significant court case after a jury found its failure to follow Honda repair procedures exacerbated the crash and ordeal for the occupants. (Provided by Tracy Law Firm via PRNewsFoto)