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Each year thousands of vehicle accidents occur in California. The owners of these vehicles then have to go through the unpleasant experience of working with auto body repair shops and insurance companies. The process can be unfair and costly to car owners if they do not know their rights. Consumer protection organizations and attorney associations have documented some of the unfair practices that allow insurance companies to avoid their obligations to pay for proper and adequate repairs to damaged cars.
The most common tactic that insurance companies have used to get car owners to accept partial or incomplete work or used parts is to require them to use repair shops they select. Insurance companies have enormous influence on these shops since they can send or withhold lucrative business. The director of the Collision Repair Association of California testified in legislative hearings investigating insurance abuse. He explained how insurance companies convince claimants to accept their estimates of repair instead of getting a more accurate and complete repair estimate from an independent shop. As a result, California passed the AUTO BODY REPAIR CONSUMER BILL OF RIGHTS. This much needed law provides that a car owner has a right to:
1. Select the auto body shop to repair damage to the insured car. An insurance company cannot require the repairs to be done at a specific auto body repair shop;
2. Receive an itemized written estimate for repairs and upon completion of the work, a detailed invoice. Both documents must include a list of parts and labor and the total price for the work performed. It must indicate if the parts are new, used, or reconditioned;
3. Be informed if the policy provides payment for towing services;
4. Be informed if the policy provides coverage for a replacement rental car while the damaged vehicle is being repaired;
5. Be informed of where to report suspected fraud or other misconduct related to auto body repairs.
These rights apply primarily to situations where the car owner is dealing with his insurance company. The law now prohibits insurance companies from including these unfair conditions in their policies. The law does allow insurance companies to provide less than 100% payment for repairs if their selected shops are not used. For example, they can sell policies that only pay 80% of the repair charges if their selected shop is not used. The solution is to read the offered policy before buying it and to not buy those policies. There are many insurance companies that do not have these restrictive conditions.
And, if the repair bill is being paid by the insurance company of another driver who caused the accident, the owner always has the right to choose the shop and have the insurance company pay the entire amount of any reasonable bill.
Anyone that wants to file a complaint relating to auto body repairs can call 800-952-5210. Complaints about unfair practices or misconduct by insurance companies can be made by calling 800-927-4357. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®