Dec. 19, 2007                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton


      New law will protect Montanans’ right to choose auto body repair shop after an accident
      As Montana’s insurance regulator, State Auditor John Morrison is reminding all licensed property and casualty insurers doing business in the state that a new law recently went into effect prohibiting a practice known as steering. Steering is when an insurer asks a customer to use a specific auto body shop for estimates or repairs after an accident. Morrison recently issued an Insurer Advisory putting the property and casualty insurance industry on notice that the new law is now in effect.
      “Antisteering laws limit an insurer's ability to recommend or direct consumers to a specific repair facility,” said Morrison. “These laws were put in place to protect a consumer’s right to choose. Montanans need to know that they have the absolute right to go the shop of their choice for estimates and repairs after an accident.”
      In 2007 the Montana Legislature passed Senate Bill 204, a law changing the requirements for automobile repair estimates. Effective October 1, 2007, any insurer that issues or renews an auto insurance policy in Montana will no longer be able to ask a claimant to go to a particular repair shop for the purpose of obtaining an estimate of damages resulting from an auto accident.
      Prior to this change, an insurer could ask the claimant to go to a specific shop for estimating purposes, but not for the actual repairs of the vehicle. The change in law now prohibits an insurer from asking the claimant to go to a specific shop, even for the initial estimate. With this change, the claimant now has the right to decide where to take the vehicle for the initial estimate and for subsequent repairs of that vehicle.
      The insurer still has a right to have its own appraiser or adjuster inspect the vehicle for a repair estimate. Upon a consumer’s request, an insurer can provide a list of direct repair facilities for the actual repairs, but the consumer retains the right to choose where the repairs will be done.
      “Property and casualty insurers that have not updated their claims handling practices to ensure that they comply with Montana’s new antisteering law would be well advised to do so and to immediately make any necessary changes,” said Morrison.
      Montana claimants that feel they have been unfairly asked by an insurer to visit a specific auto body repair shop for either an estimate or repairs are urged to contact the Policyholder Services division of the Montana State Auditor’s Office at 1-800-332-6148 or in Helena at 444-4020.