Responding to some directive from the attorney general’s office, the Texas Department of Insurance has released one document sought within an open records request related to a situation Farm auto body labor rate survey.
The document, a three-page Request Information sent by TDI to convey Farm in October 2022, was presented to Burl Richards, president from the Auto Body Association of Texas, who had made outdoors records request on Nov. 17.
Asked for further information, a spokesman for TDI said Friday that “the releasable documents were sent to the initial requester,” and advised Repairer Driven News to file for an open records request to get copies.
The OAG also denied TDI’s request that it issue a “previous determination,” allowing TDI to “withhold information obtained throughout an industry conduct examination without requesting a ruling from your office,” as provided for under state statute. This could have because of the office authority to deny future similar requests without involving the AG.
Which information is protected, and which is not, wasn't specified in the three-page opinion issued by Assistant Attorney General Gerald Arismendez .
“Upon review, we find State Farm has demonstrated some of the information at issue constitutes commercial or financial information, the discharge of which would cause substantial competitive harm. Accordingly, the department must withhold the data we marked” under state law, Arismendez wrote.
Which information had been “marked” was not specified by the letter. The AG’s office did not respond to RDN’s request clarification.
Richards provided RDN with a copy from the AG’s opinion, and also the accompanying Request Information delivered to State Farm, the two documents he caused by TDI.
“Ultimately, the data that we received is stuffed with great questions that were posed to SF and I applaud the particular questions,” Richards told RDN. “However, it was 7 years ago and just how relevant is that information today?”
Richards explained why ABAT had sought the data from TDI.
“ABAT believes that insurance surveys along with other methods used by insurance companies to determine prevailing rates and processes ought to be reviewed yearly plus they should be thoroughly investigated to ensure transparency,” he said. “Why should how an insurance indemnifies the consumer be considered proprietary?”
Richards has contended that State Farm's labor rate survey instructs shops to reply with the hourly rate they'd charge a situation Farm customer, rather than their retail or door rate, possibly skewing the result.
In addition, he said, at least a few of the respondents might be in State Farm's direct repair program , in which the rates they may charge are spelled out within their agreements. Commonly, DRPs promise shops a high volume of work in exchange for reduced billing.
Richards, on ABAT’s behalf, made a wide open records request “[a]ll documents relating to the Texas Department of Insurance's request for State Farm's automobile repair labor rate survey, including although not restricted to correspondence detailing the date the survey was requested and the person at TDI making the request.”
TDI didn't grant the request, instead asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to determine when the information should be released. That request is made on Dec. 6.
Richards said the questions he wants answered are: Did TDI get the survey is a result of State Farm, and, if that's the case, just when was the request for the data made, and by whom?
State Farm had sought to shield all the information ABAT requested under Section 552.110 of the Texas Government Code, which protects from disclosure “commercial or financial information for which it's demonstrated according to specific factual evidence that disclosure would cause substantial competitive harm to the individual from whom the data was obtained.”
Arismendez wrote that State Farm had satisfied that requirement for some, although not all, of the information sought. “[W]e find State Farm did not provide specific factual evidence demonstrating the rest of the information at issue constitutes commercial or financial information, the release of which would result in substantial competitive harm. Therefore, the department may not withhold any of the remaining information under section 552.110.”
The Request Information, sent to the State Farm County Mutual Insurance provider of Texas on Oct. 23, 2022, lists a large number of questions and requests for documentation covering a variety of issues. The inquiry covers twelve months 2022.
Questions about labor rates are just one of the seven major areas covered within the request. TDI asked State Farm what its DRP and non-DRP minute rates are, how it sets its rates, how frequently the process is completed, the date of the most recent labor rate adjustment, and whether shops could appeal for reconsideration of rates.
Other main sections include training, parts, DRPs, repair quality, complaints, and specific items, including pre- and post-scans of vehicles in an accident.
TDI didn't indicate whether State Farm responded to laptop computer through the Oct. 30, 2022 deadline, or, if so, what its responses were.