Originally published by WFTV 9 ABC | Read Full Article
By Jason Kelly and Todd Ulrich
ORLANDO, Fla. — Action 9 exposes some “free” car windshield offers that can trigger lawsuits and higher car insurance premiums.
Pat Carosone of Orlando said he felt like a winner when he answered a random phone call.
“They would pay you $100?” Todd Ulrich asked.
“Pay me $100 to replace my windshield, not even knowing if it was cracked or broken.” Carosone said someone from Glass Replacements LLC in Maitland told him his vehicle qualified for a new windshield, his auto insurance would pay for it and he would get $100.
Carosone’s windshield didn’t have any cracks or dings.
“So, it’s a perfect windshield? But they were going to replace it that day or very soon?” Ulrich asked.
“They said they would have somebody come out to replace it,” Carosone replied.
He said the windshield company representative told him auto insurance pays to replace windshields without obvious damage.
“She stated every 16 months you’re entitled to have your windshield replaced. I said, ‘So it’s like an oil change?’ and she’s like, ‘Yeah.’”
Carosone contacted Action 9 and Ulrich tracked down Glass Replacements LLC at its Maitland business address on the second floor, which turned out to be a virtual office.
Action 9 checked corporate records and discovered Glass Replacements is part of DNS Auto Glass Shop. The company is based in Arizona, but has at least 20 locations across Florida.
Three years ago, Action 9′s investigation found an independent contractor for DNS Auto Glass Shop was going door to door offering free windshields. Ulrich spoke with a customer that was suspicious since her glass only had a couple of small dings.
“Did it feel like a sales presentation?” Ulrich asked.
“Oh yeah, and he was really pushy,” the consumer replied.
She unknowingly agreed to an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) contract, allowing the windshield installer to take over the insurance claim.
Critics, led by the insurance industry, say once a consumer signs that contract, some installers charge inflated repair prices, then threaten lawsuits if the insurer does not pay.
“The end result is higher insurance premiums for all Floridians,” said William Large from the Florida Justice Reform Institute.
Large said AOB abuse of auto-glass claims has soared. His organization claims attorneys for windshield installers filed about 1,400 lawsuits in 2012, and last year there were more than 27,000 cases.
Insurers can face thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight each case because of Florida’s one-way attorney fees.
“There’s no basis for this. What’s probably going on is people have realized that this is a lucrative business model to bring these types of lawsuits,” Large said.
Glass Replacements LLC went to court nearly 200 times in central Florida last year, after customers signed AOB contracts.
“What we’re finding is that most of these individuals have no idea that there was a lawsuit in their name,” Large said.
Action 9 reviewed 30 Glass Replacements lawsuits and was able to reach five consumers. Those five claimed they never knew a lawsuit was filed in their name.
DNS Auto Glass managers had told Ulrich three years ago that the company used independent contractors for sales and DNS reviewed all contracts.
At that time, DNS said its AOB contracts provide the best quality glass and installation. There have not been any further comments after Ulrich reached out to the company for this story.
Carosone worries the tactics used by some windshield companies could drive up everyone’s insurance premiums.
“I hope you take this and make some heads spin,” Carosone said.
Attempts to reform auto-glass AOB laws failed in the state legislature last year, and the same is expected this year.