“They [Safelite] still try to take the job and steal the work,” says East Coast Auto Glass owner Paul Huot, though a new law anti-steering law has passed in the state.
Automotive glass shops in Connecticut call the investigative report by NBC Connecticut on the new anti-steering law in the state “fair.” AGRR owners allege that Safelite Solutions (a third-party automotive glass claims administrator) “steers” consumers to Safelite AutoGlass, which performs the automotive glass repair and replacement work.
“I just gave up,” says Huot, whose company is based in Hebron, Conn. “Safelite should not be on the back of any insurance card. We only get the work they don’t want to do. We’ve got to do twice as much work to try to make it. We’re a small, family-owned business.”
“The insureds are calling straight into Safelite Solutions about glass damage and the company is persuading them to go with their own company [the AGRR business unit] like no one else is out there,” says a customer service representative with Goulet Glass Inc., which is based in Winsted, Conn.
Charlie Eisenhofer, owner of Glass Repair Specialist in New Britain, Conn., says all he does now is repair work.
“I have discontinued almost all insurance work because of what was happening,” he claims. “Safelite is slowly giving the public a shafting. I’ve been in this business for 33 years and I have not seen things change for the better.”
John Wisniewski, president of Payless Auto Glass, which has branches in Connecticut, says “The NBC Connecticut reporter nailed it.
“The NBC 30 report is very concerning because the auto glass people of Connecticut worked very hard to pass a law that makes what happened illegal. Public Act 13-67 (an Act Concerning Automotive Glass Work) ensures that third-party administrators operating within Connecticut notify our consumers of their right to choose and that their choice is being respected,” he adds.
From the NBC reporter’s perspective, comments keep rolling in on the report.
“In the last week, I’ve spoken with at least a dozen independent shop owners and several customers who are sharing similar stories to those that we’ve already reported,” says George Colli, an NBC Connecticut reporter. “I’m hearing from people here in Connecticut and as far away as Washington State and Illinois. The overall sense I’m getting is that independent owners around the country question the fairness of having one company control the entire process of filing a claim. From the first phone call to the install. We’re continuing to follow this story. I really appreciate the time customers and owners are taking to tell me about their personal experiences.”
Glass company owners from Pennsylvania, New York and California are making “steering” allegations.
“They must have a lot of human error [the Safelite Solutions customer service representatives],” claims Donna Braden, president of Jack’s Glass in Northampton, Pa. “Isn’t it amazing it happens all over the country over and over? I had two instances last week where I had customers call and I conferenced them with Safelite Solutions. Safelite Solutions representatives told both they had to verify their deductible and they would call back. In both cases the customer didn’t show up for work. They said they got it done with Safelite. … It’s like pulling teeth to get them [the Safelite Solutions] customer service representative to say Jack’s Glass is an approved part of their [affiliated] network of providers. This stuff has been going on since the 1990s. How do we educate the consumer they have a choice? It’s not a level playing field.”
Derek Rera of A-1 Mobile Glass in Moriches, N.Y., posted a comment to the NBC Connecticut story, writing, “Steering or stealing glass jobs away on a daily basis for more than 10 years is not human error. It’s company policy.”
According to a Safelite statement about the new Connecticut law, “We support the section of the new law, which requires notice to consumers of their right to choose—we do this already. But the law goes on to say if we offer a Safelite shop, we must also provide the name of our competitor. We feel strongly this violates our First Amendment right to free speech and that is why we are challenging it.”
Safelite has sued state Attorney General George Jepsen and Thomas Leonardi, state insurance commissioner, and asked for an injunction to halt enforcement. After the District Court judge decided against an immediate injunction to halt enforcement, Safelite appealed this decision to the Appellate Court. A hearing was held at the Appellate level in late May and a decision has not yet been handed down.
“When PA 13-67(c)(2) is subject to the appropriate test—that announced in Central Hudson—it becomes clear that Safelite’s First Amendment challenge is likely to succeed and that a preliminary injunction should issue,” Safelite’s attorneys have argued.
On the other side of the courtroom, Connecticut’s attorney claims, “Safelite Solutions has been extraordinarily effective at steering consumers to Safelite AutoGlass.”
“[C]onnecticut has a statutory policy of protecting consumer choice in automotive insurance repair work. The Connecticut legislature enacted Public Act 13-67(c) (2) because it determined that existing statutes did not adequately prevent insurance claims administrators from undermining consumer choice by steering consumers to affiliated auto glass repair shops.”
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