The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigated steering allegations against of a nation-wide auto glass repair company on Monday.
By the next morning, business owners from around Connecticut to as far away as Illinois started coming forward with similar allegations against The Safelite Group, LLC and their affiliated companies.
One arm of the Safelite group is called Safelite Solutions. It’s a third-party administrator for a majority of auto insurers.
As the biggest third-party administrator in the nation, Safelite Solutions handles all the calls regarding glass claims around the country for those major insurance companies.
Another arm of the Safelite Group is called Safelite Auto Glass. The largest auto glass repair and replacement company in the nation.
That’s where the problem begins, according to several independently owned auto glass installers in the state.
Roland Goulet is one of them. He’s owned Sullivan Glass in Winsted for close to three decades. He says most customers who call to file a glass claim think they’re talking to their insurance company when they call the number provided to them on their insurance card.
Instead, they’re calling Safelite Solutions. Once that call is made, Goulet and several other business owners attest the company pushes the customer to a Safelite Auto Glass installer.
“If I can get everyone to call my shop first than Safelite would complain that I get all the phone calls and I keep all the work and they’re not getting their share," Goulet said. "That’s what’s happening to the local shops.”
That frustration is being felt by small mom-and-pop Auto Glass shops around the country. The accounts of an unbalanced playing field within the industry was enough for the Connecticut legislature to pass Public Act 13-67, An Act Concerning Automotive Glass Work, in 2013 and it went into effect this year.
The law is meant to protect independent companies from having business steered to larger, out of state companies.
While Safelite representatives attest they are complying with the law, the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters found that may not be the case.
Steven Petrauskas, a Goshen resident, says he requested to have Plymouth Glass and Mirror in nearby Thomaston perform the windshield replacement on his truck. He said Safelite Solutions set him up with an appointment at a Safelite Auto Glass shop in the Hartford area, more than an hour away.
“I spelled Plymouth. I spelled Thomaston for her. I explained her that I wanted that company and they still made the appointment with Safelite. I didn’t get it,” said Petrauskas.
After complaining to his insurance company and to Safelite Solutions, Petrauskas eventually had the work done at Plymouth Glass and Mirror. But this is a common issue says Nikki Maloid, whose family has owned the company since the early 1980s.
“Our customers are telling us they’re being pushed to a specific company – Safelite Auto Glass. They’re being told that they need to use this company, or they may not be covered under warranty,” said Maloid.
Safelite issued the following response to the Petrauskas complaint prior to the broadcast of the original investigation:
“We are aware of the complaint from Mr. Petrauskas and are investigating what took place. While Safelite Solutions dedicates significant resources in training its CSRs, sometimes human error may occur and that is what we believed happened here.”
Now, with Goulet coming forward with his complaints, Safelite provided another comment:
“Our policy is to honor customer preference. Safelite Solutions routinely monitors calls, performs audits, coaches our staff and takes any necessary corrective action to assure that our policies are being followed. We take complaints very seriously and actively investigate them. Regarding Mr. Petrauskas, we have confirmed that the customer service representative mistakenly thought she was scheduling Mr. Petrauskas with Plymouth Glass. It is not evidence of systemic steering. It was an unfortunate error, which we have taken steps to correct.”
It all comes down to choice, said Goulet, and making sure customers know they can decide who they want to perform any auto glass repair.
“Unless they’re pushy about getting the job done, where they want it done, then they send someone to show up to fix your windshield,” he said.
The Safelite Group is turning to the courts in an attempt to overturn the law. They say they agree with consumers having the ability to choose a company of their choice, but argue the law violates their first amendment rights when it forces them to promote or refer their competition. They’ve lost twice in the lower courts and now await a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
They’ve also sued Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and Insurance Commisioner Thomas Leonardi.