The rat repairs

Oct 1, 2009 by

The insured owned a late model Mercedes-Benz S500. He noticed an intermittent dash warning light and took it to the dealer for an estimate.   The dealer price for a diagnosis was high enough to convince him to wait until it got worse, so he decided that he would  just live with it for a while.   As time passed, he noticed an ad for a local independent Mercedes-Benz shop, so he took it in.   They did their magic and life was good until a month later when the light went on again.   This then became a series of repeat trips where they would apparently fix it for a while, only to have the intermittent problem reappear.   He turned in his repair expenses to his insurance company, and they were watching the claim expenses grow.

On his third or forth visit, the service manger told him that he had some bad news.   Unfortunately, he reported, rats had crawled up under the hood and chewed through portions of the wiring harness.   The wiring harness would have to be replaced as well as several related components.   The owner approved the repairs and left the vehicle.   A few days later, the insurance company received a bill for the rental of a loan vehicle for a month.   The adjuster remembered that the insured had casually mentioned that he didn’t need a loan vehicle.   She called the insured to confirm and he assured her that he did not get a loaner vehicle from the shop.   She then called the shop and the billing department told her that the charge was a clerical error and would be reversed.  Eventually the insured got his vehicle back and the insurance company got the bill for over $12,000.

The story wasn’t over.   Intermittent problems returned.   The frustrated insured then took the car to the Mercedes-Benz dealer, along with the previous invoices.   When they reviewed the invoices and looked under the hood, they realized something was wrong.   A few phone calls later, GEI was hired by the insurance company to tell them “what really happened”.

The invoice billed for a new engine compartment wiring harness and for several other items.   Our expert examined the vehicle and noted that the wiring harness had a new layer of electrical tape wrapped around it, but it had not been replaced.  He did find several wire splices that were definitely not up to Mercedes-Benz quality standards.

Other billed items included the ABC Control unit, the Engine Cable Harness, the ESP Control Unit, the Sender Unit, the Module Auto Level w/active control suspension, and the Air Mass Sensor.   None of these units had been replaced.

The insurance company was also billed for removal and replacement of the dash, a seat frame, and a sunroof motor.   There were no signs that any of these had been removed.   There were no witness marks in the bolts or screws and the original layer of fine dust was no different on the bolts than on the surrounding frames and brackets.

As a result, the adjuster turned in the case to the Department Of Insurance, who combined our report with other complaints.   They forwarded the case to the District Attorney to file charges against the husband and wife owners.   The DA used our testimony along with other experts to prosecute the shop owners for insurance fraud.   Both the husband and wife pleaded no contest to defrauding car owners and insurance companies by faking rodent damage with painted dead mice and droppings.   In addition to their plea they agreed to pay back full restitution to those they had defrauded, even in the cases where the charges had been dismissed.   Covering a four year period, the restitution total was in the neighborhood of $1.2 million.

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