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Driver furious after truck written off by insurance is returned with 'shoddy repairs'

You pay for auto insurance to get the peace of mind of knowing you're covered in case of an accident, but a Saskatchewan man found he wasn't in the driver's seat when it came to repairs.

Insurance company reopens claim and compensates couple after Go Public investigation

Chris Scriven, left, and Deanna Schirmacher were told their truck was a write-off, but then it was repaired without their authorization. (Don Somers/CBC)

Instead of getting a cheque for his truck that was written off after a crash, a Saskatchewan man says his insurer decided to repair the vehicle rather than replace it leaving him with a truck he believes is unsafe to drive.

"[I got] a truck back with one working headlight, a bent frame, wheel alignment was way out and it wouldn't even start," Chris Scriven told Go Public in an interview from his home in Saskatoon, Sask.

After the crash, an aduster for his insurance company told Scriven his truck was a writeoff with more than $36,000 worth of damage, then had it towed to an auto body shop chosen by the company for a secondary inspection.

The insurance adjuster initially told Chris Scriven his truck was a write-off, with more than $36,000 worth of damage. (Chris Scriven)

"About two months after my vehicle was deemed a total loss, they contacted me and told me my truck was fixed. And I think that was the biggest red flag because I hadn't signed and I wasn't made aware of any repairs," Scriven said.

The auto body shop says Scriven was contacted during repairs, but would not provide a log of the calls when asked.

According to industry standards, an auto body shop can't do repairs until it gets a signature from the vehicle's owner authorizing the work. In Scriven's case, that section of the invoice is blank.

More damage found

At the time of the crash, Scriven's 2016 Ram 2500 Laramie was almost new and worth about $66,000 according to Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI). It had just over 25,000 km and no prior accident history.

"Financially, we don't want to be stuck paying a bill for a truck that our insurance company should have to cover," Scriven said.

After picking up his vehicle, he took it to an independent mechanic who found another $9,000 in damage, including a bent frame.

In paperwork provided to CBC News, the mechanic also warned the couple not to drive the truck long distances because it was "structurally unsound."

After the first repair, Chris Scriven took his truck to an independent mechanic, who told him the truck still needed another $9000 worth of repair to be safe on the road. (Chris Scriven)

For months, Chris Scriven and his partner Deanna Schirmacher unsuccessfully tried to get the auto body shop and SGI to fix the problems identified by the independent mechanic or have the truck written off for good. They also hired a lawyer.

"We pay into insurance every month to basically have them tell you that you're on your own and it doesn't matter that your vehicle needs repairs, we think it's done perfectly fine even though it's not and they shoo you out the door. It's not fair," Schirmacher said.

Insurance reopens claim

A spokesperson for SGI wouldn't comment on specifics regarding the the work done, but says the original repairs were done to "industry standards."

Scriven's case wasn't handled well, says Tyler McMurchy, manager of media relations at SGI.

"We definitely take ownership of the fact that there was a communications breakdown on our end. It's definitely a learning experience for us. This is a very rare and unusual case," McMurchy says.

Tyler McMurchy, manager of media relations at SGI, acknowledges Scriven's case wasn't handled well. (Trent Pepler/CBC)

After the SGI adjuster determined the truck was a total loss, the auto body shop determined it could fix the damage for $6,000 less than the initial estimate, he says.

After Go Public's inquiries, SGI agreed to reopen the claim and offered to either write off the truck or pay Scriven $21,500 to cover the cost of the additional repairs, legal fees and other out-of-pocket expenses. The couple chose the second option.

"The customer should not have been in the dark on that for the amount of time that this gentleman was and we are definitely sorry," McMurchy said.

"We will be following up with that repair shop to make it very clear what our expectations are of a SGI-accredited repair shop."

Be proactive, lawyer says

Scott Stanley, an insurance claims lawyer in Vancouver, says the best defence when dealing with a claim and repairs is to be proactive and don't assume the insurance company will "make things right."

Insurance claims lawyer Scott Stanley says insurance companies are vastly different from one another, and advises consumers to do their research before they buy. (Christer Waara/CBC)

"I probably get one or two inquiries a week from people all over Canada looking to get some free legal advice or just to get some help to deal with an insurance company," Stanley tells Go Public.

"It's a huge problem … there's not much there in terms of infrastructure to protect an individual consumer of insurance."

Stanley's advice to consumers is to take charge of their claim, saying they have the right to choose their own repair shop and can negotiate what repairs are done — even the quality of parts used.

"I think they should become involved, get a quote, do some research on the vendor to see if they are the right person or the right entity to fix their vehicle," Stanley suggests.

He also says consumers should be picky about the insurance company they choose. That's more difficult in provinces with insurance companies that are provincial Crown corporations, leaving drivers with no choice.

For those who have options, he suggests doing the research.

"[Take] a box of salt, typically a box of salt is a box of salt. One is not different from the other. Insurance companies are different.

"They are vastly different. And consumers generally don't do the homework, the due diligence that they would, say, if they were going to buy a home or something else," Stanley says.

Insurance industry keeps mum

The Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators (CCIR) collects industry data in a survey it calls its Annual Statement on Market Conduct.

The surveys completed by the participating insurance companies include information on how customers are treated, statistics on customer complaints, the number of closed claims, payouts and which companies faced regulatory action.

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All of this information would help consumers with the due diligence recommended by Stanley when shopping for insurance.

But CCIR won't make that information public. When we asked, the council told Go Public it has an agreement with the insurance companies to keep the information confidential, using it "to improve consumer protection and ensure alignment with international best practices."​


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About the Author

Rosa Marchitelli

@cbcRosa

Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.

With files from Jenn Blair

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