Jill Kolodner | January 20, 2023 | Car Accidents
The short answer to this question is no; after a Baltimore car accident, the insurance company cannot compel or pressure you into using their preferred auto repair shop. This prohibition carries the force of Maryland law. Like most laws, however, there are exceptions.
Maryland’s “Fault” Auto Insurance System
Some states maintain a “no-fault” auto insurance system. Maryland, by contrast, uses a “fault” auto insurance system. Under this system, you must pay for damages to your car if the accident was your fault unless you purchased optional collision insurance.
In the event of an accident that was not your fault, you must contact the at-fault driver’s liability insurance provider and file a third-party claim for car repairs. Maryland law requires drivers to carry at least $15,000 in property damage liability insurance. However, roughly 15% of Maryland drivers are uninsured.
List of Preferred Repair Shops
Maryland auto insurance companies maintain a list of preferred auto repair shops. They will encourage you to use one of these shops. Although they cannot force you to use them, they can restrict benefits or limit coverage if you refuse to use one of their preferred repair providers. You need to read the fine print of the policy to determine the consequence of using an out-of-network provider.
Insurance companies are not being totally arbitrary by imposing these requirements. They have a legitimate interest in ensuring that the repair shop will not overcharge you (and thereby overcharge them) or perform substandard repairs.
Circumstances Under Which the Insurance Company Can Require You To Use a Certain Repair Shop
Under the following circumstances, the insurance company can compel you to use one of their preferred auto repair shops:
- The insurance company has a Direct Repair Program (DRP). A DRP is an arrangement between a property damage liability insurer and certain auto repair shops. Since insurance companies deal with a large volume of claims, they can negotiate discounted repair rates that save them money without sacrificing repair quality.
- Leased vehicles: If you lease a vehicle from a leasing company, the leasing company can require you to use one of their preferred auto repair providers to repair your leased vehicle.
Even if these exceptions do not apply and you are completely free to select your own auto repair shop, it pays to shop around. Not only will you end up with a better price, but you are also likely to receive better-quality repairs.
Don’t Fall for These Tricks
Here are some of the tricks that the auto liability insurance carrier might try to pull on you when you seek to repair your damaged vehicle:
- Claiming to have a DRP when they don’t. This could mislead you into believing you don’t have a choice about repair shops when you do.
- Misrepresenting Maryland law: The insurance company might try to convince you that you are obligated to use one of their repair shops. Such a misrepresentation might constitute insurance bad faith, the basis for a lawsuit if you can prove it.
- Threatening to delay processing if you use an out-of-network repair provider. This, of course, would leave you without the use of your car for a longer period of time.
- Refusing to cover your use of a rental car if you fail to use one of their providers.
Few insurance companies will dare try any of these tricks on a claimant who has hired a lawyer.
How To Choose the Best Repair Shop
Apply the following principles to select the best auto repair shop for you:
- Choose a shop located near you. This will reduce travel time.
- Select a well-known repair shop. If you can, rely on word-of-mouth recommendations.
- Look for a repair shop with a National Institute for Automotive Excellence (ASE) certification.
- Get a written estimate,
- Ask the shop to keep you informed about the process of repair.
- Ask whether the shop uses aftermarket or original parts.
Be wary of any offers that seem too good to be true, especially offers of deep discounts. You could sacrifice repair quality that way.
Hire an Attorney To Protect Yourself From Insurance Company Tricks
An experienced personal injury lawyer knows every insurance company trick, and they can prevent the insurance company from taking advantage of you. Personal injury lawyers usually do not charge legal fees unless they obtain compensation for you.