Wednesday, 15 April 2015 00:00

Retro News: May 1995, 2000, 2005

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20 years ago in the collision repair industry (May 1995)

Members of the Automotive Service Association (ASA) Collision Operations Committee are optimistic about “Service First,” an enhanced claims handling program introduced by State Farm. According to a State Farm news release, the pilot program was scheduled to be introduced in several states by mid-May. It would streamline auto damage claim handling and repair processes, allowing customers to go directly to qualified facilities for inspections and estimates without visiting State Farm drive-in claim service centers.

The news release states that the program would also allow repair facilities who discover damages after the initial estimate to make repairs without reinspection by State Farm claims staff.

“We don’t think another inspection is automatically required when the work is being performed by a well-qualified expert with whom we have a solid business relationship,” said Bill Hardt, State Farm assistant vice president of claims.

“We see this as a very progressive and much needed addition to the process to provide quality repairs for the consumer, and believe it supports the historical focus of all honest and ethical repair facilities,” said ASA’s Collision Division Director Russ Verona of East Rockford Collision Center in Rockford, Ill.
     – As reported in Collision Expert. State Farm continued the “Service First” program for about a decade, but by 2001 had already begun rolling out “Select Service,” the program that eventually succeeded “Service First.”

Verona died in 2006 at the age of 73.

15 years ago in the collision repair industry (April 2000)

On the same evening that ABC’s “20/20” news program was blasting the collision repair industry for consumer deception and insurance fraud, a Kansas City family received the keys to a new home built by industry volunteers.

In a presentation during a Collision Concepts reception, Massachusetts shop owner Chuck Sulkala said the project, coordinated by the National Auto Body Council (NABC) and Habitat for Humanity, was a public demonstration of the many positive efforts undertaken by members of the industry.

The NABC needed to raise $50,000 to fund the project, but more than $67,000 in contributions had been received as of last month, Sulkala said. More than 300 volunteers – from shops, insurers and industry suppliers – helped build the home from the ground up over the course of about 10 days.

Sulkala admitted the project got off to a rocky start because the foundation for the home – poured by contractors prior to the arrival of industry volunteers – was more than five inches out of square.

“The key word is ‘was,’” Sulkala said. “We fixed it. It’s the same thing we do in our businesses every day when we take a wrecked car and put it back into the shape that it needs to be. That’s what we did to a foundation that was off. That set us back by a day or two. But that house is a solid, quality house, and the woman who’s moving in there with her three kids is absolutely thrilled and delighted about it.”
    – As reported in Autobody News. The NABC went on to even larger projects, including raising $500,000 in 2003 for a medical facility at a camp in Montana for children with cancer.PHOTO CAPTION: Chuck Sulkala led a National Auto Body Council (NABC) project in 2000 to build a Habitat for Humanity home for a family in need. The NABC raised $67,000 in donations for the project, and more than 300 volunteers from the industry helped build the Kansas City home from the ground up over the course of 10 days.

10 years ago in the collision repair industry (May 2005)

The Montana legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that requires insurers to admit any qualified collision repair shop into their direct repair program (DRP). Senate Bill 388, which was signed by the governor, is intended to help ensure that non-DRP shops can compete with DRP shops for customers, and is in some ways an anti-steering law because it will remove barriers that can develop from DRP relationships.

“I think it will go a long way toward leveling the playing field,” said Gene Dziza, owner of Collision Craft in Kalispell, Mont., who pushed for the bill for six years. “I think that in our industry, it’s a really good idea to have us going back to open competition based on the merits of the service you provide, not who you are affiliated with. It will give our customers a lot more choice.”
    – As reported in Auto Body Repair News. Interviewed three years later, Montana shops said the state’s unique law was working. “We can’t change the [DRP] criteria, but we have the right to see it and decide if we want to meet it,” Donna Fastenau of Hank’s Body Shop in Billings, Mont., said. “The companies that had previously removed us…had to open the door and let us back on,” agreed Max Yates of Yates Body Shop in Butte, Mont., who said his shop had been removed from multiple DRPs because of his insistence on including necessary procedures on his final bills that other shops may not.5 years ago in the collision repair industry (May 2010)

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has voiced support for a court injunction being sought by the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC) to halt The Hartford’s unfair use of in-house appraisers.

Last November, a Connecticut Superior Court jury found The Hartford had engaged in unfair trade practices, and awarded nearly $15 million to shops in an ABAC-led lawsuit brought against the insurer. The association subsequently filed for punitive damages and for a court injunction to end The Hartford’s exclusive use of in-house appraisers, which the association says excludes independent appraisers and forces shops to accept artificially low labor rates.

In Blumenthal’s filing with the court, he said "the state has an interest in preventing the unfair suppression of labor rates that significantly harms the state's economy and results in extreme economic hardship for independent automobile body repair shops."

A spokesman for The Hartford, which has denied any wrong-doing and has said it will appeal the jury award, told The Hartford Courant newspaper that the insurer was "disappointed that the attorney general has chosen to support a position that the body shop owners admit is intended to increase costs for Connecticut consumers,” and that it “is important to us that our customers have access to a repair program that provides great service at a fair price.”
      – As reported in CRASH Network (www.CrashNetwork.com), May 1, 2010. A final decision in The Hartford’s appeal of the lawsuit is expected later this year from the Connecticut Supreme Court. At stake are: $14.7 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded to the shops; $20 million in punitive damages against The Hartford added by the judge; interest that could bring the total to close to $40 million; and the injunctive relief that Blumenthal was supporting. Following his election to the U.S. Senate in 2010, Blumenthal became largely silent on auto insurance issues, until earlier this year when he announced that he is urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether insurers are directing consumers to collision repair shops that have agreed “to use cheaper and possibly more dangerous parts.”

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