On the heels of a report showing that the influx of windshield glass repair lawsuits is here to stay, Senators heard a bill Tuesday to reduce incentives for filing suits and increase consumer protections.
Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart’s bill (SB 312) would prevent auto repair shops from offering incentives including cash, rebates or gift cards for customers to sign over their auto insurance benefits for faster repairs.
Current incentives intended to help small businesses compete with national glass-repair brands have created an industry perpetuated by a dozen law firms, largely in Stewart’s home of Orange County. Local repair shops offer cheaper, expedited repairs when given the right to charge the customer’s insurance company at a rate that is often higher than through the company’s contracted vendor.
“It does hurt the insurance companies, I will say, because they’re having to pay more than they normally would pay, but they’re allowed to do that,” Stewart said. “This bill does not take away in any way shape or form their ability for a lawsuit. That’s not in the bill.”
After an amendment entered Friday, the bill would require repair shops to submit cost estimates and to notify insurance companies about pending suits, an effort to have law firms and insurance companies negotiate out of court. The fine print on the waiver relinquishing customer’s insurance coverage would also be enlarged to a readable 16-point font.
“It’s unfair to not tell the people that they’re giving away all their rights to this company. Then they find it interesting that, when they go into a lawsuit, their name is on a lawsuit because they gave away their assignment of benefit (AOB),” Stewart said.
Auto glass lawsuits peaked in 2017 at nearly 24,000, according to the Florida Justice Reform Institute report. The tort reform lobbyists estimate the number of suits to reach 16,000 or 17,000 by the end of the year, still four times the 2013 level of more than 4,000.
In the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, lawmakers agreed to postpone further testimony on the bill until next week to allow more witnesses to testify on the bill. Stewart expects the committee to pass the bill, but the committee’s ranking Democrat, Tampa Sen. Darryl Rouson, said he does not support the expanded bill.
Last Session, lawmakers stripped the reform from the AOB omnibus bill but left reforms in for property repairs.
More than 90% of auto glass suits come from a dozen firms mostly clustered in Orange and Hillsborough counties.
Lobbyists and lawyers appeared at the committee meeting to testify against the bill, but more are expected to testify next week, which Stewart said might derail the legislation.
Florida Justice Association President Leslie Kroeger testified that the bill would benefit insurance companies that don’t need to submit the documentation small businesses would need to complete the repair.
“Practically speaking, the larger companies, which are looking frankly to hold a monopoly in this area, have a negotiated payment. They don’t need an assignment of benefits,” Kroeger said. “So what this really is doing is a death by a thousand cuts to small businesses, to independent mom-and-pop auto replacement [businesses].”
The bill also requires auto shops to recalibrate advanced driver-assistance systems — modern safety features like automatic braking sensors are often installed directly into windshields — if necessary, or to notify customers that the system will need to be restored. Current law does not require shops to do so, which can leave customers unwittingly without an operating ADAS.