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Lawsuit seeks to bust Travelers over car

After five long years Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has achieved settlements with two major auto insurers that he says will result in refund more than $3.4 million to Texas policyholders who paid more out of pocket on claims for auto repairs in certain years than their policies required.

Progressive County Mutual Insurance Co. agreed to pay $2.35 million, including interest, in refunds to about 11,000 policyholders who had repair claims from January 1996 through May 1999.

Old American County Mutual Fire Insurance Co. will pay refunds of $1.07 million to an estimated 4,500 policyholders. This refund period covers claims for vehicle repairs from January 1996 to September 2001. Any Old American policyholder who believes he or she may be entitled to a refund under this settlement may request a claim form by calling (866) 233-7091 (ext. 970), or 214/561-1970.

"Consumers who made legitimate vehicle insurance claims following traffic accidents have expectations that they will be treated fairly," Attorney General Abbott said. "Likewise, they deserve refunds from companies that used deceptive means to take money from them through such schemes as this. That's not the way the standard auto policies in Texas work, and I'm seeing to it that these companies return money to these consumers."

The companies, along with others in the industry, engaged in the unlawful practice known as "betterment," in which they claimed that the use of better or newer parts to repair the vehicle increased its value. Companies then charged the amount of this supposed "increased value" to the policyholders, thus reducing the amount the company paid for the repairs. Policyholders were then forced to make up the difference, in addition to their deductible, to the repair shop.

The Attorney General has successfully settled 17 betterment cases between 2000 and 2005, alleging that insurance companies merely increased the value of the replaced part, and not the entire vehicle. Texas law does not permit such a charge or deduction, and auto insurance policies require that the companies fully pay for the repair, less the deductible, even if the parts used were better than the ones they replaced.

In 2001 Texas Attorney General John Cornyn achieved a settlement of a lawsuit against Travelers Insurance Companies, resulting in $310,000 in estimated refunds to Texas policyholders for the practice of reducing auto repair claims payments to its policyholders for "betterment"of the vehicle.

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