A lawsuit against Safelite Group, Safelite Solutions and Safelite Fulfillment LLC alleging misleading advertising has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio by Rich Campfield, founder of Ultra Bond in Grand Junction, Colo. The suit alleges that Safelite has misleading advertising that favors replacement of windshields rather than repairs of long cracks, which have “wiped out a large portion (if not most) of the market for Ultra Bond’s products and services.” Campfield’s company has offered long-crack repair products and services since 1989.
“The heart of this case is Safelite’s long-running and egregiously misleading advertising and promotional scheme in which it falsely tells consumers that cracks longer than six inches cannot be repaired.
“Instead, Safelite falsely tells consumers that their windshield must be replaced when a crack is longer than six inches” alleges the court documents. “This misstatement misleads consumers to replace their damaged windshield which costs many times more than a repair, in addition to the fact that replacement is also demonstrably less structurally safe than repairing a factory installed windshield.”
Campfield’s attorneys site the Lanham Act, which prohibits any “false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact which . . . in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature characteristics, [or] qualities . . . of . . . goods, services, or commercial activities.”
His suit alleges that in addition to “depriving consumers of their freedom of choice to repair long cracks” defendants failure to disclose the availability of long-crack repair has “directly damaged the businesses of plaintiffs, which are competitors.”
Ultra Bond holds between 50 to 75 percent of the U.S. market for long-crack repair products, Campfield’s attorneys’ note. He claims repair is important because it retains the original manufacturer seal.
“Nothing can duplicate the factory seal of an original installed windshield since it is sealed with a symmetrical bead of urethane into a vehicle’s frame pursuant to an automated machine process under strict quality control conditions, including indoor temperature, humidity and cleanliness regulation—all of which greatly reduces the number of human and environmental variables that can detrimentally impact the quality of the installation,” alleges the court documents. “If a windshield is not installed under robotically climate controlled factory conditions, human error can cause any number of potentially fatal windshield failure scenarios (e.g., by materially altering torsional rigidity, air bag crash pulse, installation stress, and roof support).”
Campfield also notes that repair costs less for customers than replacement. With replacement, customers often must meet their insurance deductible which is at least $500. The cost of repairing stone-chip damage is generally no more than $65, while the cost of repairing a crack is generally $100 to $150, he claims. Oftentimes, the insurance company will waive their policyholders’ deductibles in relation to windshield repairs.
“On the other hand, an OEM or non-OEM ARG windshield replacement requires purchase of an entirely new windshield typically costing a consumer hundreds of dollars and is many times the cost of performing a routine glass repair,” according to court documents. “It involves a vehicle owner’s purchase from and installation by an auto shop of a windshield that is substitutable for the vehicle’s original factory-sealed OEM windshield (i.e., relative to the make, model and year of the vehicle).”
As a third-party automotive glass claims administrator, Safelite Solutions serves more than 175 insurance and fleet companies, including 19 of the top 30 property and casualty insurance companies, the court documents allege.
The company acts on behalf of its insurance clients and receives first notice of loss via call centers. At these call centers, the customer service representatives (CSRs) must adhere to scripts, Campfield’s attorneys claim.
“While certain aspects of the scripted language may vary somewhat based upon the specific insurance company client of Safelite, the Safelite script uniformly fails to include any information that permits a CSR who is processing and adjusting an insurance damage claim to disclose to the policyholder the option or benefits of performing a windshield repair when the size of the windshield crack is larger than a dollar bill (six inches),” alleges the court documents. “Rather, when a windshield has a long crack, Safelite’s script automatically compels the CSR to simply process the insurance claim as requiring a windshield replacement.
“[I]n the event that a policyholder does inquire or request of his or her own volition about the possibility of repairing a crack longer than six inches, Safelite Solutions’ CSRs falsely tell insurance customers that repair in these circumstances either: is not safe; is unlikely to hold; or, will compromise the structural integrity of the windshield,” attorneys contend.
By processing the claims and scheduling the appointment, Campfield’s attorneys allege, “Safelite is falsely telling consumers that cracks no longer than six inches are not repairable as well as misleading consumers by omitting material information—namely, the industry-accepted option of safely (and less expensively) repairing windshields with long cracks. These material misrepresentations and omissions harm the public as well as plaintiffs.”
The “industry-accepted option” Campfield’s attorneys are referring to is the Repair of Laminated Auto Glass Standard (ROLAGS™).
“ROLAGS™ represents the auto glass industry’s statement of best practices as compiled under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines, by a committee of windshield repair system manufacturers, auto glass manufacturers, windshield repair and replacement retail practitioners, insurance third-party administrators, the three auto glass trade associations and other interested parties,” claims Campfield’s attorneys.
“At the time [of its development in 2007], the Standards Development Committee for ROLAGS™ included David Erwin of Safelite AutoGlass as well as Paul Syfko of Glass Medic America/Belron. Syfko was active during the development of the ROLAGS™ Standard and in advocating for long crack repair,” Campfield’s attorneys claim. “Both he and Safelite’s representative, David Erwin, voted in favor of the newly adopted June 20, 2007 ROLAGS 14 inch long crack windshield repair standard.”
On February 11, 2014, ANSI approved an updated version of the ROLAGS™ Standard, which also notes that cracks up to and including 14 inches can be repaired, says Campfield.
His attorneys claim that consumers would choose a long crack repair instead of replacement if Safelite did not engage “in misrepresentations or omit material information.”
“In sum, Safelite’s material misrepresentations and omissions about the viability of long crack repair have directly caused plaintiffs significant lost profits by severely weakening the market that would otherwise exist for Ultra Bond’s products and services,” according to Campfield’s attorneys.
He has asked for actual damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees and “because Safelite has wrongly benefited from its deceptive practices and knowing misrepresentations by unfairly inducing retail and insurance customers to unnecessarily pay for more expensive and less safe windshield replacements, plaintiffs demand damages in the form of disgorgement of these ill-gotten gains,” according to court documents.
Disgorgement is a “repayment of ill-gotten gains that is imposed on wrong-doers by the courts,” according to www.investopedia.com. “Funds that were received through illegal or unethical business transactions are disgorged, or paid back, with interest to those affected by the action. Disgorgement is a remedial civil action, rather than a punitive civil action.”
Safelite has not yet responded to the complaint at press time. The lawsuit was filed August 18, 2015.
Campfield filed a well-known lawsuit ten years ago alleging that State Farm, via its third-party administrator for glass claims, LYNX Services, interfered with its long-crack repair services. The case, as well as subsequent appeals, was dismissed.
To read a copy of the complaint, click here.