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Texas Auto Body Insurance Accountability Bill Defeated by Clock, Supporters Optimistic About Progress Made

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Texas Auto Body Insurance Accountability Bill Defeated by Clock

Written by Chasidy Rae Sisk

The Texas Auto Body Insurance Accountability Bill, House Bill 1348, failed to receive a second reading by the end of this legislative session, simply running out of time rather than being defeated by the bill’s opponents.

House Bill 1348 was only six bills away from being heard in the House Chamber when the clock signaled the end of the session, but proponents of the bill are still optimistic about the progress that was made.

John Kopriva, president of the Houston Auto Body Association (HABA), said, “The 86th Legislative session is in the books. Looking back over the last couple of months, a lot of time and effort was spent in Austin at our State Capital in support of HB 1348. This bill was well on its way for approval, but the legislative clock ended the session before it could be presented.”

“Our platform, ‘Safety before Profitability,’ is strong and we will be back. We count this as a successful legislative session. During the months ahead, we need to keep our momentum going. Join your local collision associations and help move our industry forward,” Kopriva added.

Though she acknowledged that it would be “easy for us to feel defeated,” Jill Tuggle, executive director of the Auto Body Association of Texas (ABAT), said there’s plenty to be proud of. “The bill wasn’t voted against. We made it far in the process, but our work isn’t over. We’re excited about the future.”

House Bill 1348 was written to hold insurers to OEM repair procedures, forbidding an insurer from “disregard[ing] a repair operation or cost identified by an estimating system, including the system’s procedural pages and any repair, process or procedure recommended by the original equipment manufacturer of a part or product.”

In addition to defining “kind and quality” for aftermarket parts, the bill also defined a reasonable and necessary amount as “the amount determined by the original equipment manufacturer’s manufacturer and estimating systems required to repair a vehicle to the condition before the covered damage to the vehicle occurred.”

During the April hearing, bill sponsor Rep. Travis Clardy (R) addressed the need for lawmakers to give the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) the authority to “do the right thing” for consumers.

He insisted, “Consumers should be protected by state law and should not be subjected to unsavory business practices that can lead to catastrophic events. Automobiles are among the biggest purchases our constituents make. After a collision or damage event, Texans expect their vehicle to be repaired to its pre-accident condition. Repairs need to be made safely, using safe parts and by following safety procedures.”

Recounting his three meetings with the TDI in 2018, ABAT President Burl Richards told the committee, “We have exhausted every effort before we came here. We continually were told that the TDI has no jurisdiction.”

A key testimony was provided by Marcia Seebachan, one of the occupants of the infamous Honda Fit case of 2017, resulting in a $42 million verdict, who spoke about the importance of safe repairs for the consumer.

Both the body shop and the insurance company replaced the roof with a 3M adhesive instead of welding it into one of the appropriate places, where the OEM specified, she said. This deliberate choice is what cost her—both physically and financially, she added.

“It is exceptional that we’re alive today … The effects of the wreck on our health, marriage, family, careers and finances were devastating,” Seebachan said. “This pain was exacerbated when we were told that [our] CARFAX report was completely inaccurate and the car had in fact been repaired poorly before we owned it.”

During the hearing, Tuggle said the ABAT isn’t forcing body shops to do OEM repair procedures. However, she said, the shops that are taking the time to do them, deserve to be reimbursed.

“If we’re going to use aftermarket parts, then these parts need to be tested, so we know they’re safe,” Tuggle said. “Shops can make more money if they use an aftermarket part, but it’s not about the dollars—we need to know that we’re putting safe parts on our customers’ vehicles. Right now, the burden of proof on whether that part is safe or not is on the body shop and that’s not fair.”

Ware Wendell, executive director of consumer advocacy group Texas Watch, provided letters from 1,100 Texans supporting House Bill 1348. He expressed, “I feel we’re on the right side of the law and on the right side of the issue. Those who are arguing that [this bill] is going to raise rates are ignoring the fact that if people are in safer vehicles, their injuries are going to be far less severe when they’re in collisions. That’s really what we should be keeping our focus on—protecting families and making sure that our kids and loved ones are safe.”

Advocates of House Bill 1348 plan to revise the bill language with an amendment to exempt OEM parts recommendations from the procedures insurers must reimburse. The revised bill will be submitted in the next legislative session of 2021. The bill’s supporters are very hopeful that the amended version will be successful, especially since there was little opposition to House Bill 1348 from legislators this year.

Compared to previous legislative endeavors, Tuggle said ABAT was “so much more well-equipped this time around. We’ve garnered a lot of support.”

“We are proud of the support from so many collision repairers from across the state who joined in the legislative effort,” Kopriva said. “Members of ABAT, HABA, the Southeast Texas Collision Group, and the Rio Grande Collision Group all joined in passing out fliers and going from door to door in the Capital to make our bill known. A special ‘thank you’ goes to Representative Travis Clardy who sponsored HB 1348, Lobbyist Jacob Smith and Ware Wendell, executive director of Texas Watch. All spent many personal hours working behind the scenes to educate and promote the bill.”

For more information on the collision repair industry in Texas, visit abat.us or habaonline.org.