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Plan would deny information to claimants after an auto accident

Anti-consumer legislation authored by Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, would keep consumers in the dark about auto repair options, depriving them of the ability to make informed choices.

SB1167 is a bad bill for anyone involved in an auto accident. Being in an accident is without question one of life's most stressful events. Certainly the most important step following an accident is to remedy any injuries sustained by the driver and vehicle occupants.

After that, getting the car repaired becomes the number one issue for most people. And if they don't have any idea where to take their car for repair, they turn to their insurance companies for information.

That's a good thing, because everybody wants the repair process to be as hassle-free as possible, and the best way to achieve this goal is to ensure that claimants are provided all the information available to make an informed decision about their repair facilities.

Examples of information that claimants should receive are:

• The facilities that will provide the best guarantee on the work;

• The facilities that will provide the fewest delays and inconveniences in the repair process; and

• The facilities that perform the highest quality work.

A good source of information for claimants is their auto insurance companies. They not only deal with body shops across California, but they also create networks of prequalified shops that meet service quality and guarantee standards.

All of this information is provided by the insurance company to a claimant after he or she is in an accident.

Unfortunately, the right of consumers to get this information from their insurance companies is in danger.

If SB1167 passes, claimants who have "chosen" a specific auto body shop without adequate information would be denied vital information about shops prequalified by insurance companies. These shops often provide lifetime guarantees in multiple repair locations, as compared to limited, same-location guarantees that are offered by many auto body shops not affiliated with insurance companies.

Further, if the same customer had a problem with a shop that was not prequalified, this law would prevent an insurance company from telling him or her about repair facilities that might be able to resolve their problem. SB1167 also would prevent insurance companies from answering questions regarding different phases of the repair process if the claimant opted not to go with a prequalified shop.

While the bill denies this information up front, it actually allows a company to give out the same information after completion of the repair job by a shop that was not prequalified (bad after-the-fact news for someone unhappy with the work done by the non-network shop they selected).

To prohibit an insurer from helping its claimant make the most informed decisions when having his or her car repaired is just plain

wrong and smacks of anti-consumerism.

In fact, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently struck down a Texas law that had similar limitations on communicating to consumers, stating:

"Consumers benefit from more, rather than less, information. Attempting to control the outcome of the consumer decisions following such communications by restricting lawful commercial speech is not an appropriate way to advance a state interest in protecting consumers."

The reality is that SB1167 is another example of unneeded legislative activism.

There is already a California law that prohibits insurers from requiring their policyholders to have their damaged vehicles repaired at a specific shop. A company cannot mandate the decision, but it can provide material information to help a claimant make the most informed decision.

In fact, the law requires insurance companies to inform their policyholders in writing and verbally that they have a legal right to pick any repair shop they want. Insurance companies work hard to see that this law is obeyed.

Companies that don't follow it should be held accountable.

The question to ask is: "If I am in an auto accident and need my car repaired, do I want all information made available to me about where I can get the best guarantee, have the fewest hassles and get the highest quality service?"

If the answer is yes, SB1167 should be defeated.

Californians should be insulted by this effort of the body shops to gain financial benefit at the expense of consumers. For more information and to register your "No" position on this legislation, go to www.caautobodychoice.com.

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