By John Yoswick
Ohio attorney Erica Eversman, who has long been an advocate for consumers and collision repairers in legal battles with insurers, is now one of about 30 volunteer consumer liaisons to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). The consumer liaisons attend the NAIC’s three meetings per year that draw state insurance commissioners and their staffs along with insurance industry representatives.
The NAIC focuses on insurance regulatory issues, often drafting (or attempting to draft) model legislation that states may adopt; in the early 2000s, for example, the NAIC unsuccessfully attempted to draft a proposed regulation for states to consider related to the use of non-OEM parts.
Eversman said the NAIC currently is largely focused on health care issues.
“There is nothing going on right now at the NAIC involving auto insurance in any way,” Eversman said, noting that she is the only current NAIC consumer liaison with a focus on auto insurance. “But we intend to change that.”
She said presentations made at NAIC meetings are what can lead the organization to charge one of its committees with taking on a particular issue. She presented at NAIC on the John Eagle Collision Center lawsuit, the dealership collision shop successfully sued for not following OEM repair procedures on a vehicle in which a Texas couple were subsequently injured. She said she focused on the need “to have insurance companies pay for OEM procedures that affect safety.” When asked if that would drive up insurance rates, Eversman said it may or may not.
“But even if it did, would you rather have insurance rates go up, or would you rather have unsafe cars go back out on the road just so we can keep insurance rates down,” Eversman said she asked regulators rhetorically.
She also noted that auto insurers declining to pay for “proper, safe repairs” has repercussions for other insurers, such as the health insurer covering the costs of medical care for the couple hurt in the accident that led to the John Eagle lawsuit, or the garage-keepers’ insurer covering the shop.
She said California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara seemed particularly receptive after her presentation to work with her “on solving some of these issues for consumers,” and she sensed “immediate opportunities to be able to make a change” in New York, North Carolina, Colorado and Mississippi as well.
“This is not to say that other states wouldn’t be interested, but I didn’t necessarily have any personal interactions [at the NAIC meeting] with some of the other states,” Eversman said.
One state in which repairers shouldn’t have trouble being paid for OEM repair procedures is Mississippi, Eversman said. Following her presentation, she spoke with Mark Haire, deputy insurance commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Insurance
“‘Our commissioner already mandates the use of OEM procedures. We don’t have that issue,’” Eversman said Haire told her. “Now, that was the first I’d heard of that. That could be true. I don’t know. But that was the position that they took.”
Eversman acknowledged that many collision repairers and shop associations have become frustrated with trying to get their state insurance regulators to address their concerns about some claims practices by auto insurers.
“Unfortunately, as I think we’ve all experienced, sometimes it seems as if the insurance commissioners are there to protect the insurance companies [rather than consumers],” Eversman said. “I certainly have had that experience.”
But she said one message she said she received at an NAIC meeting was that shops should file complaints about insurer practices with their state regulators.
“I told commissioners that we sometimes get push-back, that there are some states in which we’ve been told that the department of insurance will not take complaints from collision repairers, only from consumers,” Eversman said. “They told me no, that isn’t true. Or at least that shouldn’t be true.”
She said if shops are told that, they should contact her so that she can address it with the state agency involved. Complaints directly from consumers may be better, she said, “but how is the consumer supposed to know why a roof needs to be welded rather than glued? They can’t know that. They would need your help to file that type of complaint anyway.”
She said one state regulator told her they don’t have the authority to make factual determinations about who is at fault in some disputes, but rather can only get and pass along the insurer’s response to the complaint.
“‘But do file the complaints,’ he said, ‘because we can put pressure on the insurance company, and we will, to stop certain practices, particularly if we see that there’s more than one complaint about it,’” Eversman said she was told.
Getting complaints from multiple shops around a state – rather than just a lot from one shop – can help demonstrate a pattern or practice and thus trigger an investigation, she said.
When submitting a complaint about an insurer’s refusal to pay for a necessary OEM repair procedure, she recommended to shops, stick to the facts.
“Do not whine,” Eversman cautioned. “Just say: ‘Here’s the proper way to repair the vehicle, and this is a safety issue,’ if it is. ‘The insurer is refusing to pay for this. I have liability for it. Look what happened in the John Eagle case,’” she said.
The NAIC website (https://www.naic.org/state_web_map.htm) offers links to each state’s insurance regulatory agency, including a link to how to file a complaint in each state.
Eversman also suggested that collision repairers support the reelection next year of North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, a retired life insurance executive and a former lobbyist for a North Carolina autobody association. Causey, a Republican, was in the news earlier this year after he alerted federal law enforcement about what he saw as an attempt to bribe him. The chairman of the Republican Party of North Carolina — one of four people indicted in the scheme — allegedly offered campaign contributions to Causey to help ensure special treatment for an insurance firm (and Republican party campaign donor) under investigation by Causey’s agency. All those indicted have denied the allegations.
“Mike is the guy who wore a wire for the FBI” after he told authorities of the alleged bribery attempt, Eversman said. “Mike is a friend of this industry. He’s willing to help the industry, but we have to keep him there.”
Eversman said that like the other consumer liaisons, she has a one-year term in the position at the NAIC, but can reapply this fall for another term.
“Some of the consumer liaisons have been with NAIC for 15-plus years and really know the various departments and how they operate,” she said. •