What a difference a word makes. The Minnesota Department of Commerce says Safelite Group and Safelite Solutions went beyond telling policyholders in the state that they “may” be balance billed by out-of-network glass companies, and says the company told policyholders they “will” or “would” be charged for the difference between what the shop charges and what the insurer pays. So says the Department of Commerce’s court filing in response to Safelite’s motion for summary judgement.
In the lawsuit filed in April 2015, Safelite referred to a settlement agreement between the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Insurance Division, and Auto Club Group that provides for the Auto Club Group to pay a civil penalty of $150,000 and “cease and desist from using Safelite Solutions, or any other subsidiary of Safelite Group Inc. as its administrator of automobile glass claims in Minnesota,” according to the consent order.
In the motion for summary judgement, Safelite’s attorneys contend that Commissioner Michael Rothman seeks to restrict Safelite’s protected commercial speech. Discovery has made it clear that the state’s Department of Commerce cannot justify its restrictions on Safelite’s commercial speech, Safelite’s attorneys say in court documents.
They contend that the Department of Commerce has interpreted a local statute as prohibiting the company from “advising that insureds may be balance-billed by non-preferred glass vendors” for charges not covered by the insurer. Safelite’s attorneys argue this statement is true.
Attorneys for the state, however, say Safelite did not use the word “may” and instead used language that includes “will” or “would” be balance billed.
In 2013, Marty Fleischhaker, the Commerce Department’s assistant commissioner for enforcement, was brought information, including copies of recordings of three-way phone calls between an AGRR company, Safelite Solutions and insureds.
To determine the accuracy of the information, Minnesota’s attorneys say Fleischhacker agreed to have his own damaged windshield replaced and participated in a call with Safelite Solutions.
“In this call, Safelite Solutions repeatedly raised the issue of balance billing to convince Fleischhaker not to use an out-of-network shop,” according to the court documents filed by the state.
The assistant commissioner says the statements concerning balance billing were “deceptive and coercive.”
Throughout 2014, the state collected documents and call recordings from insurers. The state’s attorneys also noted that that the Commerce Department opened an administrative proceeding against Safelite Solutions alleging that the company engaged in unlicensed adjusting.
The state has asked that the court to deny Safelite’s motion for a preliminary injunction and summary judgment.
The judge has not yet issued any new decisions.
To read Safelite’s motion for summary judgement, click here.
To read the Minnesota Commerce Commission’s response, click here.