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To Tallahassee and Back: From Grieving Widow to Committed Consumer Advocate

How the death of her husband due to a deadly mistake made by an auto repair shop propelled his widow into advocating for the passage of a new law..

The response to last week’s “” blog post has been wonderful. Based on the number of Facebook recommendations and other comments and messages sent to me it is the most-read installment of this blog to date.  I realized something that I should have known all along:  people like to read about people. So, I have decided to put the academics of the legislative process aside for awhile and focus on some stories from the past eighteen years that have touched the hearts of those in our office.  Some of the stories we have heard lead to successful outcomes for many.  In certain instances, Sen. Fasano filed pieces of legislation to help right a wrong.

When any one of us takes our vehicle into an auto repair shop, we fully trust that the people who work there know what they are doing. We usually pay our bill and drive off without another thought of the work that was done on our car or truck.  Unfortunately, for one of our constituents, once he pulled out of a repair shop’s parking lot, there wasn’t much time to think about his repair or anything else for that matter.

In 2001, a Pasco man brought his car into a local shop (which is no longer in business, by the way) to have some work done on his car. After picking up his car, the gentleman was driving his newly repaired vehicle home to his wife and children when one of the wheels suddenly fell off causing him to lose control of the car.  The car went off the road and he was killed in the crash that resulted.

Following the crash investigation, the shop owner was not held criminally liable, even though it was determined that the wheel had not been properly tightened.  However, his widow wanted to hold the shop owner to account so she decided to pursue civil action. Her attempt to exact some sort of justice ended when she learned that the repair shop owner did not carry liability insurance for the work performed on his premises.

Some people, often after a tragic event such as this, are driven to do something positive with their grief. Even though she realized the law as written would not benefit her, the victim’s widow knew that if she could change it others may not have to go through the same anguish that she had experienced.  She came to our office seeking help, not for herself but for the unknown and nameless people who could one day find themselves in a similar situation. We were instantly struck by her genuine concern for people, especially considering those were people that she may never even meet.  She asked Sen. Fasano to file legislation that would prevent what happened to her husband and her family from happening to someone else. The result was a bill that would require the approximately 22,000 auto repair shops in Florida to carry liability insurance.  While doing research on this issue, we discovered that at one time repair shops were required to carry liability coverage but that provision was struck from law.

Once the bill was filed it immediately drew attention on many fronts. Named after the victim, “The Abelardo ‘Al’ Castillo Act” made his name something that would long be remembered in the halls of the Capitol. His widow, Marie, was a fierce advocate for every person who uses the services of an auto repair shop. 

In 2006 the bill bearing her late husband’s name passed the Florida Senate.  It required that when a motor vehicle repair shop applies for registration with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to operate a repair shop (and for any subsequent registration renewals) it must demonstrate that it carries $300,000 worth of liability insurance. Even though the Senate vote was unanimous that year, the reception was less enthusiastic when it made it to the Florida House of Representatives. The bill did not pass that chamber. 

Even though it did not become law that year, or during any subsequent attempts, it did grab the attention of both the auto repair and the insurance industry.  Sometimes the conversation that takes place during the discussion of a piece of legislation can be nearly as important as actually passing a bill. We later found that most larger shops and those affiliated with dealerships do have liability coverage even though they are not required to do so. The only way to know for certain is to ask the shop you frequent if they have the coverage or not.

Mr. Castillo’s widow remarried and eventually moved from Florida.  Even from her new home in another state she still checks in from time to time to see how things are going. She is a committed advocate who deserves a great big “thank you” from everyone who drops their car off at a shop for repair work.

I welcome your questions about the legislative process, state government or any related matters.  Please feel free to leave your questions in the comment section and I will answer them in an upcoming post.  If there is a specific topic you would like me to write about please let me know as well.  Thank you for your readership.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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