Hail Wars

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Hail has been slamming parts of Texas in recent days, and that means a ton more cars are heading to the shop for (often costly) repairs. We all know that insurance companies want to pay as little as possible to fix them, but now they’ve declared open war on one popular body shop in Austin.

A Geico adjuster even ran over the owner’s foot with their car, and then left the scene…

We’re back at Hail Specialists, that big Austin auto repair shop where the owner has declared war on the very insurance companies, he needs to approve his customers’ claims.

Mike Chanata wants the cop to help him ban another Allstate claims adjuster.

“We’ll make every customer aware that we’re not allowed here,” said the adjuster.

“No, you guys are allowed here. She’s not allowed here,” clarified Chanata.

Hail Specialists is also the scene of another incident between Chanata and insurance adjustors. The folks in the car are from Geico.

And Chanata is the guy whose foot was run over by the car.

This is beginning to look like a reality TV show.

Pretty much ever since this auto ped altercation in September of 2022, Hail Specialists and Geico have been at war, lawsuits flying.

Chanata says Geico is using the fight over his foot to delay sending appraisers, paying claims, they kind of admit it.

“I’m sure it’s going to be probably for all the Geico’s that are in your shop being that that there’s a legal suit pending,” said Geico employee.

That can’t be good for business, but Chanata wants to call it out anyway, and not just the folks at Geico.

Allstate picked up the phone but that’s about it.

“We go above and beyond for our customers and insurance companies don’t like that,” said Chanata.

It’s all about the money Chanata says, he believes insurance companies are often shortchanging customers on car repairs by refusing to pay for original replacement parts.

That’s why he banned this Allstate adjustor.

“I got 45-minute, video of this lady when she was removed from the facility denying to pay for everything I needed to properly repair vehicles,” said Chanata.

“He’s doing the work correctly. He’s doing a good job,” said Joe Tenery.

Joe Tenery had a Jeep needing hail damage repairs and he says his insurance company, Geico, was refusing to pay about 2-thousand dollars of a 12-thousand-dollar claim.

“Mike pretty much handled it all. Just kind of relayed what was going on to me. So, it just took that workload off of me. I didn’t need to deal with it,” said Tenery.

Joe’s Jeep was actually at Mike’s shop when the whole foot thing happened.

He says it helps explain why Geico wanted to shortchange him on the cost of repairs.

“I mean, I definitely they definitely every time I talked to Geico, they had an attitude with me. When I was asking for things, they said, no, we know who you are. No, we’re not giving you this,” recalled Tenery.

To say Chanata was on fire the day his foot got run over I an understatement.

On that day, September 15, 2022, Chanata filed three complaints against Geico with the Texas Department of Insurance.

He does complain a lot. Since May of 2021, Mike OR his company have filed complaints with the state 148 times.

His top target, Geico. Allstate is a close second.

“It’s very time consuming. Like, it’s almost like we got to hire a whole separate person just to help, you know, with that,” said Chanata.

And from the records of the Texas Department of Insurance it’s clear Mike may be onto something, 60% of the time mike complained about an unsatisfactory settlement offer the insurance company was told by the state to pay more.

When he complained about other parts of the claims process, his customers got more money nearly 50% of the time.

“They can lose their contract if they piss off the insurance company, so therefore a lot of shops don’t do it,” said Chanata.

Mike says Hail Specialists is pretty unique that way, small repair shops simply don’t have the time or patience to file these complaints.

And then there are the repair owners call direct repair shops, they’re under contract with the insurance companies and they don’t want to lose that payday.

“Those people, they will never go ahead and encourage filing complaints with TDI,” said Chanata.

“Many people in the public are unaware of the fact that a body shop may be in bed with the insurance company,” said Ware Wendell with Texas Watch.

Ware Wendell is the executive director of Texas Watch, a citizen advocacy group in Austin.

Ware says consumers have the right to choose where they take their vehicles, but he suggests going to independent repair shops, members of the auto body association of Texas. 

Hail Specialists is one of those.

“They have your safety top of mind more than how much money they’re going to get paid by the insurance company. So that’s why we encourage people to look for independent body shops, shop the market, take the time to do that. It’s really important,” said Wendell.

“You shouldn’t be misrepresenting a policy. Actually, Allstate has something that’s called the appraisal clause,” said Chanata.

Another way Mike helps customers get the most from their insurance policies is telling them about the possible benefits of invoking the appraisal clause.

That is when 2 appraisers, not just the one hired by the insurance company, decide what the insurance company has to pay on a claim.

It’s in almost all auto insurance contract, but Mike says he has evidence of an Allstate trying to deny it.

“Right now, you don’t have that option because it’s not under that coverage,” said the Allstate representative.

Here is Mrs. Villa’s contract and here is that appraisal clause. Right on page 20, take a look at her son’s sworn affidavit.

Quote: we were told due to the contract we signed with our repair facility of choice (Hail Specialists) that we were not entitled to the appraisal clause and it was no longer a possibility.

“Fair appraisal is really important for every Texan in the state. If your insurance company is bullying you and they’re engaging in slow pay or low-ball tactics, you’re going to have to frankly fight them to get the money that you’re owed,” explained Wendell.

Texas Watch studied more than 1200 appraisal claims and found that they were a huge benefit to consumers. 

“On average for those policyholders, they were able to recover 5000 more dollars. What that means is now there’s more money on the table to make a proper and safe repair to that vehicle,” continues Wendell.

“I didn’t even know that that was a thing. It’s just not something I have ever had to deal with,” said Joe Tenery.

But Chanata’s customers, he educates them on the appraisal clause. Bet that goes over real big with the insurance companies.

“All insurance companies are trying to scare the customers away from invoking the appraisal clause. We’ve had insurance companies now that customers invoke the appraisal clause. Now all of a sudden, the insurance companies want to pay what’s rightfully owed. Why? Because now they have to hire an appraiser and pay money to hire that appraiser,” said Chanata.

We’ve all paid for our insurance, and we need to be able to recover those policy benefits in our time of need,” said Wendell.

“If you have any trouble with your insurance, he’s willing to, to go to bat for you. I’ve actually recommended Hail Specialists a few times,” said Tenery.

Hail Specialists used to get cars appraised through a virtual app, but not anymore.

But there was a catch. Allstate wanted a so-called neutral repair shop to look first.  

“It needs to be moved to a neutral facility for us to inspect it, if they’d like to have it brought back to you, that’s fine,” said Richard Mattes.

Texas Watch tells us it’s illegal for insurance companies to steer their customers to preferred shops, but they find their way around it.

They’ll tell you if you take your car to this body shop, we can get our adjusters out there quickly. Get the claims process started quickly, get your repair done and get your vehicle back to you. But if you insist on taking your vehicle to this other shop. Oh, it’s going to take an extra week or two,” said Wendell.

Or in mike Chanata’s case, insurance companies are simply trying to steer his customers away from doing business with Hail Specialists.

Take Allstate, they’re telling people to complain to an Austin TV consumer reporter named Jenni Lee, to blame Hail Specialists for these mounting fights with the insurance companies.

One customer wrote this sworn affidavit that Hail Specialists lawyers now have.

“I was told since I brought my vehicle to Hail Specialists I would be responsible for the fees to remove the vehicle. I was frustrated, they told me to call Jenni Lee,” read the affidavit.

Joanne Stevenson’s Chevy Suburban is at Hail Specialists and she’s taken cars there before. They said the estimated repair costs this time to fix it right was $10,000, but Allstate was only willing to pay $3,000.

Joanne is stuck in the middle.

The insurance company told her to report it was a crime what Hail Specialists was doing.

“And I said, so what’s going to happen? She said I don’t know, but call the police on him if he doesn’t give you your vehicle,” said Joanne.

Joanne tells us she totally regrets switching to Allstate.

“They seem like they have a vendetta against him and I told him,” said Joanne.

“My insurance company told me y’all were doing some illegal crap and committing fraud claims,” said an anonymous customer.

“That’s an allegation that we vehemently deny,” said Derek Mueller.

Derek Mueller is one of mike’s lawyers in the Geico lawsuit which alleges fraudulent activity.

Hail Specialists hasn’t been charged with any fraud. Insurance companies started complaining about his storage fees, Chanata claims they’re on a watchlist that all insurance companies see.

“These whispers, defamatory whispers that are going on. That’s the big issue for us,” said Mueller.

Chanata sure isn’t shying away from making new friends at all the insurance companies. He turns on his cell phone all the time as he argues with adjustors about what it will take to fix a car to last.

“It’s really up to consumer knowledge and then like power in their hands to make sure that the insurance company does not run them over,” said Chanata.

And certainly not like the way Mike Chanata was run over by that Geico adjuster.

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