Action 9 investigates auto glass repair companies that head into your neighborhood and offer free windshields.
A Deland woman claims a company hijacked her insurance claim and then tried to replace a windshield for damages that you could barely be seen.
Consumer investigator Todd Ulrich investigated how these windshield bullies could drive up everyone's auto insurance rates.
“Did it feel like a sales presentation?” asked Ulrich.
“Oh, yeah, and he was really pushy.” Judy Loftus said a man just showed up at her door claiming the windshield on her SUV was damaged.
He was from DNS Auto Glass Shop and said he would call her insurer and install a new windshield for free.
“He was very determined to get me to sign the paperwork,” said Loftus. She became suspicious and called Action 9.
The damages are two tiny dings about the size of the tip of a pen.
“It's not easy to see,” said Ulrich.
“No. No. It's way below where my vision is anyway,” replied Loftus.
She didn't realize the company's contract included fine print explaining assignment of benefits, or AOB. That meant the glass company would take over her claim and could sue her insurance company for payment.
This is a new trend that insurance experts say drives up repair bills for needless work and legal costs. “They would have no way of knowing if it were damaged or not, and they have a gun to their head to pay the price the contractor is asking for,” said insurance expert Tom Cotton.
Action 9 found that, in Central Florida, DNS Auto Glass sued insurance companies for payment 80 times.
And statewide, according to Florida's Department of Financial Services, in 2012, auto glass companies filed 1,389 lawsuits against insurers. Just four years later, the number of lawsuits soared to 19,695.
Regulators said that, just as excessive AOB water damage claims are driving up homeowners’ insurance rates, this practice can do the same to auto insurance.
“The ultimate result is higher premiums for everybody,” said Cotton.
DNS Auto told Ulrich that independent contractors sell its services, and company quality control catches any needless repairs before windshields are replaced. The company also said its AOB contracts protect consumers.
“I don't like the fact that my rates could go up too,” said Loftus.
In Florida, comprehensive coverage includes free windshield replacement if the windshield is or if something about it affects your vision.
Contact your insurance agent and state regulators say, you should keep control of your claim.
ORLANDO, Fla. — DNS Auto Glass Shop response:
- Every claim being filed goes through our central call center located in Arizona.
- An EMPLOYEE of DNS vets the potential customer by asking a series of questions related to the damage on his / her vehicle. IF the information provided from the CUSTOMER meets our criteria for replacement we move to step 3. If it does not, we thank them for calling and ask that they call us back when the damage warrants a repair or replacement.
- A 3-way call is placed to the insurance company WITH the customer on the line.
- THE CUSTOMER files the claim with the insurance company NOT DNS. It is the customer that explains the damage directly to the insurance carrier, then based on that communication the insurance company issues a claim number and work authorization.
- Once the claim has been filed and an appointment made, DNS dispatches one of its technicians to service the vehicle.
- As a final line of defense against fraudulent claims being filed, the DNS technician inspects the vehicle prior to any work being done. They then submit a series of pictures of the vehicle and most importantly pictures of the damage. These pictures are reviewed by a Manager at DNS and it is only when those pictures meet our standards that the technician is authorized to install or repair the broken glass.
As it relates to the “assignments of benefits and proceeds” you asked about, it exists for CONSUMER protection. It is the mechanism that enables a consumer to gain the full benefit of his / her policy they pay premiums for. It also allows for the insurance carriers to pay the glass shop directly, so the customer does not have to pay any out of pocket expense should they have full glass coverage. It also allows the consumer to choose THEIR shop of choice and their choice of quality products and services. Some insurance carriers, look for the “cheapest” way out without regard to the quality of the product and service. Should a consumer choose to use an independent auto glass shop that uses a higher quality product and a more experienced technician they should have that right and DO in most cases under the provisions of their policy. The “assignment of benefits and proceeds” enables them to make that choice and allows the auto glass shop to ADVOCATE on THEIR behalf either through the appraisal process or litigation, again to avoid them having to pay additional monies for products and services they have already paid for through their policy premiums. Without this assignment, consumers would be forced to accept and settle for whatever and whoever their insurance carrier wanted to pay for.