As the primary subject of Willamette Week's Nov. 2 cover article, "Leif's Auto Body Experience," I wish to commend you for exposing the fraud that many insurance companies and Oregon body shops consistently engage in to the clear detriment of many of your readers. This fraud costs Oregonians over $100 million a year. Most alarming, shoddy auto repairs put everyone at risk and the current system of insurance-managed direct-repair programs is a dirty little secret, certainly worthy of more media investigation on the part of WW and others in your business.
WW made several good points including demonstrating that the insurance industry is willing to do just about anything to keep the public from learning about these "programs." It was also clear from your article that the insurers despise me, because I won't put their profits before my own integrity and my customers' safety.
That said, I am disappointed that reporter Nick Budnick attempted to establish a connection between my opposition to these auto-body repair "HMO" programs and personal mistakes I made more than 25 years ago. As this article pointed out, I have never run from my past. Instead, I have tried to "use" mistakes I've made as motivation to succeed.
Budnick promised me, on the record, he was writing an unbiased article on my company and our unique position within the industry. Instead he chose to focus on mistakes I made as a young man and a number of false, unverified statements.
Why WW would take the time to repeat insurance-industry-directed gossip about me, while largely ignoring the much bigger story Budnick uncovered, i.e., the ongoing rip-offs going on by the thousands every year at the direction of insurance companies, is puzzling. This is not the way to win another Pulitzer, WW.
Leif's Auto Collision Center is the only mainstream shop in Oregon working to educate the public about their rights. We've assisted thousands of consumers who were being screwed by insurers or insurance-controlled body shops. I have always acted as a true consumer advocate, and my efforts, as your story did accurately note, have kept insurance companies from completely controlling the body-shop industry in Oregon and brought safety standards up. With tens of thousands of satisfied customers to back this up, it begs the question, what was Budnick's true motivation?
The following facts, which are independently available through public and court documents, were made available to Budnick, who chose to overlook them in his quest for sensationalism:
1. Surveys and insurers alike confirm that Leif's is the fastest and highest-quality shop in Portland.
2. Our customer-satisfaction rating over the last 10 years, stands at an average of 94 percent (94 percent of our customers say they would recommend us). It's in the top ratings in the industry.
3. Not a single "consumer complaint" to the Oregon Department of Justice has ever been deemed valid. In fact, for more than two years, the State of Oregon has refused our repeated formal requests to respond or even view these "complaints," and after reviewing our case with me personally two and a half years ago, the DOJ declared our business to be clean and upstanding.
4. Not a single concern from the Department of Justice arose from any consumer complaint.
5. In my 15 years in business in Portland, I have never intentionally charged a single customer a dime above what the insurance company and Leif's have negotiated for insurance-owed repairs. And, that's put in writing.
Budnick, after being given access to the very complaints we have never been allowed to see, told me that it appeared to him the majority of the "complaints" in our file were generated by insurance adjusters. But somehow he left that piece of information out. It reminds me of the old saying regarding hit-and-run journalism, "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story."
At Leif's, we stand behind our record as the finest and most respected collision-repair shop in the market. I honestly hope WW continues to explore the tremendous power insurance companies exert over the collision repair industry in Oregon and the tens of millions of dollars in fraudulently obtained profits that have resulted in thousands of automobiles being repaired incorrectly and the fleecing of unwary consumers' pocketbooks.
Leif Hansen, CEO
Leif's Auto Collision Centers
Nick Budnick responds: First, no such "surveys" were made available to me. Second, I did not tell Hansen the majority of his complaints appeared insurer-generated. Third, it's true that the Oregon Department of Justice never filed charges based on his complaints, but my story did not say that it did. Instead, the story said that the Department of Justice issued Leif's a number of warning letters; in the most recent one, dated July 8, 2005, DOJ cited "evidence" that Leif's had been "taking advantage of consumers' inability to understand the language of Leif's agreement" as well as providing consumers with various "misrepresentations" about repairs. Hansen denied the DOJ allegations, as was noted in the article.
In the article titled "Curing Jamie Handley" (Oct. 12, 2005), Willamette Week stated that Alejandro Contreras is not licensed to practice medicine in Oregon. Although Dr. Contreras is a licensed physician in Colombia, he is not licensed by the Board of Medical Examiners as a medical physician in Oregon; he is licensed by the Oregon Board of Naturopathic Examiners.
In the same article, Willamette Week said John Green, M.D., following an investigation, was ordered by the medical examiners board to take corrective action. Dr. Green objects, saying that the corrective action was voluntary as a result of an agreement with the board. To clarify, the Board of Medical Examiners' public records regarding Dr. Green state that a Corrective Action Order was entered into on Sept. 4, 2003. In that order, Dr. Green agreed to provide written documentation to patients regarding the treatment that they received after each visit; Dr. Green must complete a course on conscious sedation within nine months. The board defines "Corrective Action Order" as "an agreement between the Board and a licensee that concludes an investigation into the licensee's conduct. There is no admission or finding of a violation of the Medical Practice Act; therefore, these orders are not disciplinary. The orders do impose action the Board and licensee agree are appropriate to remedy the problem that caused the Board to open an investigation."
Any inferences in the article inconsistent with these facts are not factually supported, and Willamette Week regrets their publication.