Still Informed, Still Passionate, Still Into Cars: Retired ADALB Attorney Victor Fanikos Reflects

by Alana Quartuccio

New England Automotive Report has been featuring many passionate members of the automotive community who have made significant contributions to the industry over the years. This month, we reached out to retired ADALB attorney, Victor Fanikos, who also spent many years working with the Division of Insurance (DOI), to talk about his years serving the industry and what he is doing these days to help body shops while he enjoys retirement. 

New England Automotive Report: You’ve used your legal background to help benefit the automotive/auto body industry; how did you get involved in this area? 

Victor Fanikos: Growing up, I was always into cars. My father had a small grocery importing store where he’d import oil from Greece, and he’d go around pedaling it, so we always had a car. Cars in those days always needed fixing, so I’d spend a lot of time with my father at the garage. I was always fascinated by how mechanics could take cars apart and put them back together. After I graduated from Revere High School, I went to Harvard before it was ‘woke’ or anything like it is today (laughs). While interviewing for jobs after graduation, one person I interviewed with suggested that I would make a good lawyer. That planted a seed in my head, and I decided to apply to Boston University. Shortly before graduation, I went to work for Governor Volpe’s campaign. When he was elected, he put me on his staff. My title was Assistant State Service Secretary, which basically meant I served on his transition team. I stayed on with that job, and I enjoyed it.

When Richard Nixon became President, Volpe was appointed Federal Highway Commissioner. I did not want to go to Washington DC since I had just gotten married. A legal counsel job opened up at the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, which was a great fit for me. I was interested in the insurance business, and I began to get involved somewhat with the auto body industry at the time. After a couple of years, I left to pursue an opportunity working for an insurance agency, but after three years in that venture, I decided I didn’t like it and went back to the DOI when an opening came about. I was there for about a year when I was asked to work on putting together an easy-to-read auto insurance policy. We worked on that for 18 months, and that’s where I got some recognition as a co-author. The auto policy was designed to be read at the ninth grade level. This came out in 1977. That was when I really got into the auto body end of things as there were all types of questions involved about policy and claims. Most of them were about personal injury, but it increasingly became more about auto body as there were questions about rental property damage claims. 

NEAR: How did you get involved with the Auto Damage Appraisers Licensing Board (ADALB)? 

VF: Two or three years later, I was still working with the DOI as legal counsel when I was asked to become legal counsel to the ADALB. There was kind of a shake up of the Board at the time I got on it. Gil Cox was named Chairman, and we had two or three other appointees. So, the new Board was kind of directed by the insurance commissioner at the time to try to straighten out some of the auto body industry problems that had come about. The first big one was the use of like, kind and quality (LKQ) parts which was becoming more and more of a problem. The quality wasn’t good, and the prices were sometimes deliberately low so they could gain market share and business. So, we investigated and the first big splash we made was with the ruling that basically stated that LKQ parts could be used after the first three years. It was a huge compromise to get the auto body industry on as they wanted to ban LKQ parts altogether, but we got them to agree to this: If the vehicle was damaged during its first three years, new OEM parts would be used, but after three years, LKQ parts could be used if they were available and were the right fit. The auto body shops did have leeway to send the parts back if they did not fit right. Believe me, in those days some of those parts didn’t fit right at all. After that, the commissioner wanted the Board to revise the regulations. Computers were only starting to come into play back then, so we had to type things up, circulate them and retype them. We only got to meet about once a month, but we finally got it done and put out two revisions, and they are basically still in effect today. By doing this, I got more interested in the auto body side of things. 

The ADALB’s job is to license auto damage appraisers. For five years, I was the one who graded the written test. The physical part of the test would take place at a body shop or sometimes at the parking lot at our building. Appraisers would review damaged vehicles and write up the estimates. We’d then review the results and see if they passed or not. I got to know the body shops very closely during that time and see their problems first hand. It’s an interesting field, one that takes a lot more competence and intelligence than people give credit for. The new cars today require a degree of knowledge one did not need in the past. Back when cars cost $2,000, most people assumed they would be getting a new one after about five years, but cars have become more and more expensive, and people expect them to look better and perform better. The demand for quality work has increased, and the shops that provide that type of repair are the ones that survived. There isn’t that much business anymore. When cars get into accidents these days, sometimes they are told that they can’t be fixed. 

NEAR: How long did you work with the ADALB? Any memorable things from those years you’d like to reflect on? 

VF: I was with the DOI for 34 years in total, and I was with the ADALB for about 15 years until I retired. The ADALB was a small part of my day to day. We would give them the appraisal exam about five or six times a year, and we met about once a month. I enjoyed working with the guys; sometimes, they’d come to me with questions and other times criticisms. But that was the job. 

NEAR: What were some of the biggest challenges or accomplishments you encountered during your time at the ADALB? 

VF: Well, certainly the LKQ was a really big issue. The right to disassemble a car before writing an estimate was another big issue that had to be resolved. One of the necessities we required from body shops was they had to have an appraisal prepared for the insurance company to look at. But one of the issues was that the company would not pay attention to the data; it’d be a verbal estimate. So, we imposed a requirement that the companies had to negotiate with the body shop. But before we did that, the body shop had to prepare an estimate; however, there were questions that came about from body shops regarding hidden damage if insurance companies didn’t want the shop to break down the vehicle to prepare the appraisal. 

So we put in the regulation that any appraiser, not just the insurance appraiser, has the right to break down the body to prepare an appraisal. There were requirements involved, but they had the right to break it down, and this saved a lot of aggravation. Delays cost money. I recognized it. The body shops recognized it. The insurance industry came to recognize it. Working on that revision was probably the biggest success we had. We argued and argued, and we talked about these various issues until we got a compromise, until we got results and then we’d move on to the next issue. 

NEAR: What have you been up to since your time with the ADALB? 

VF: I retired at 64 and a half. I had endured the Big Dig and all that traffic and everything (laughs). Our kids were grown, and I told my wife, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ so I got out. I enjoyed it. I did a lot more consulting than I do now. Because I wrote the auto policy, lawyers would call me, and I would serve as a qualified expert witness. Judges would allow me to testify as to what the intent of the policy was, not necessarily what the result should be. I do less of that now as those cases have become fewer and fewer, but I still get involved with auto body cases. 

NEAR: Can you discuss some of the recent court cases you have been asked to give expert testimony?

VF: I was involved with one case out in Fall River and another one just recently in Worcester on the right to disassemble. Insurance companies still try to insist that they don’t have to disassemble a car, but the regulation clearly states that any appraiser, with the approval of the vehicle owner, has the right to do so in order to write an appraisal. I hear they are trying to change that regulation. I think they’d be making a mistake because it’s worked pretty well with the exception of one or two insurance companies. We tried to safeguard everybody’s interests. It should be possible for any appraiser to determine the standard damage without any further ado or delay. 

Another issue had to do with markups on parts. I wrote a letter that body shops have the absolute right to mark up parts they purchased that are used in the repair. To me, it’s kind of silly to expect the shops to handle this without some type of markup. One area that was particularly contentious involved markups on towing charges. For example, a shop would pay the tow company to obtain the vehicle because usually the tow company will not release a car until they are paid. So, the insurance company would look at this and say the body shop didn’t do anything to get the car, but the fact of the matter is that the body shop had to put out the money to release that car. Sometimes, it would take a long time to get that claim settled and a check for the repair. Companies were losing money because they had to put out cash. One shop had three or four thousand dollars outstanding at any given time. So, we agreed that shops should be able to put a markup on that. These are the issues that the poor little body shop guys face. I can see the insurance company’s point of view. They feel that the shop isn’t doing more than writing a check, but writing a check costs them money in addition to taking and making the phone calls to arrange for the tow and processing the vehicle upon arrival to their facility, and they should get some compensation for that. In fact, the same holds true for any sublet paid out by the shop. 

(A copy of Fanikos’ letter can be found under “Markup on Sublet Repairs” in the Members Only section of

NEAR: Do you think the industry has changed since you have been less active?

VF: Technology has made the industry a lot better. If anyone has benefited from technology, the Insurance industry has. Appraisers were not in communication with the home office as quickly back then. Their work assignments used to come in over the phone every day at four o’clock, when they’d learn what their assignments were for the next day. Technology changed all that. Now they can transmit information faster. They have a photo and location of the vehicle, access to manuals and pricing right in their hand. It’s changed a lot of things from the insurance company’s point of view. Possibly more important is the fact that the new cars today can’t be easily fixed anymore and the amount of totals has doubled. 

NEAR: Observing from the sidelines these days, what are the biggest issues involving the ADALB today? 

VF: I’ve only attended a couple of meetings, but I was impressed that there was discussion, and no one was getting cut off. That’s what we tried to do back then, and it seems to have carried on. I think the biggest problem facing the industry is electronics. Every body shop I talk to is feeling over these electronics (ADAS). One shop owner told me he feels like he should’ve become an electrician with all the wire harnessing and sensors that require training and a degree of sophistication by the technician. I don’t even know if the auto body schools are set up to train their graduates as capably as they should be. We went through this to some degree when I was on the Board when cars shifted from frames to unibody construction. Body shops helped change the vocational school curriculum and get them the equipment needed to train in unibody construction. In terms of electronics, company manuals have to be available to technicians. There was all that controversy surrounding the Right to Repair law, but it’s a necessary thing. Without access to the directions, how can a body shop expect to fix these cars? The dealerships can’t handle volume. So, there will always be a need for the independent body shop, in my opinion. But they must be qualified to do the work. So, I think the Board will have to address the educational path so body shops can survive. Also, I believe the auto body industry needs to understand that they have to educate the Board, the insurance commissioner and the governor about their issues. When I worked with the Board, I knew a little about cars, but the commissioners and the governors I dealt with didn’t know anything about it. I think it’s incumbent that AASP/MA Executive Director Lucky Papageorg and the association members continue to do their best to try to educate the Board, insurance commissioner and governor about the problems the auto body industry is facing. Body shop owners should also bring issues to the attention of the ADALB. 

NEAR: Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

VF: Educating my kids and my grandchildren.They always call me if they have a legal question. They are good kids; I enjoy them. Retirement is good. I try to keep busy. I had a Jaguar for a while that I used to fiddle with. I hung around a body shop, and there was a guy there who wanted to sell  the car. So, I bought it and fooled around with it for about three years. I proved to myself that I am not the greatest mechanic. Even though I can read the service manual, I still had trouble doing the work. But it was fun. I kept it running, but I don’t pretend to be a mechanic. 

NEAR: What did you gain from working alongside the auto body and insurance industries?

VF: I have always appreciated the hard work that so many put in. It’s a skill and a talent, and when they finish a job, they look back and say ‘Gee, I did a great job on that!’ Some of them get more satisfaction from that than from the money they make. For those with shops in smaller towns, they live by reputation. They have to have this pride that sort of drives them, and that always impressed me because it’s pressure day after day. As a lawyer, you can lose a case and say, ‘Well, the facts were against me or the jury didn’t like me, or whatever.’ But the body shop is responsible for itself and their customers. That always stuck with me. The relationship they have in their small towns and the pressure that is on to make sure they do a good job, and they do do a good job. 

Want more? Check out the March 2024 issue of New England Automotive Report!