Local news stories affecting the auto body industry in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine
In a notice to collision repairers in the state, the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC) is warning shop owners that some Allstate managers are forcing their damage appraisers to institute new policies that are in direct conflict with Connecticut law.
According to the notice, certain Allstate damage appraisers have informed the association that their managers are instructing damage appraisers to disallow labor on any supplement involving “Labor Only Procedures.”
In addition, those same insurance managers are also mandating visual inspections on all vehicles before any appraiser can authorize repairs to start and are no longer permitting appraisers to accept body shop photos.
According to the notice, Allstate has further instructed these appraisers to disregard all documented procedures performed by a shop that did not wait for the required supplement inspection.
Two associations are serving the collision-repair industry in Pennsylvania. They are The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Pennsylvania, (AASP-PA) based in Harrisburg, and, in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Collision Trade Guild (PCTG).
The PCTG, led by Executive Director Ross DiBono, says it represents approximately 700 automotive-industry businesses, including collision shops, in its mission to achieve proper compliance and enforcement of legislation such as The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Physical Damage Appraiser Act and The Pennsylvania Unfair Insurance Practices Act, as well as other consumer-protection laws.
As part of its educating mission, the Guild publicizes consumers’ rights to choose collision repair facilities.
“The decision of where the vehicle is to be repaired is the vehicle owner’s, not an insurance company’s,” the organization stresses on its web site. In addition, “It is the Guild’s purpose to bring accountability to the process of consumer claim handling and settlements in Pennsylvania.”
An affiliate of the national association, Minneapolis, Minn., based AASP, the 1,300-member AASP-PA comprises three divisions: Mechanical, Collision, and Towing.
A joint committee hearing was held by the Consumer Affairs and Transportation committees of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on "Right to Repair" on June 6. Testifying at the Philadelphia, PA, hearing were three panels of witnesses, including automobile maintenance and repair shop owners who expressed concern with so-called "Right to Repair" legislation that has been introduced previously in the U.S. Congress and several states. Neither the Congress nor any state has ever passed "Right to Repair" legislation.
John Francis III of Francis Automotive in West Chester, Pa., testified for the Automotive Service Association (ASA) emphasizing that automotive service information is already available to independent repairers and consumers. "At Francis Automotive, we use several third-party service information providers - ALLDATA, Identifix and an online service that includes technicians from all over the world, iATN - on a daily basis. As needed, our technicians will use automotive manufacturer websites. We have several aftermarket scan tools that we use and two auto manufacturer scan tools. Tools to perform reflashing are available for all makes of vehicles. It's a business decision regarding which tools to purchase. We have made a business choice not to purchase equipment to reflash BMWs and Mercedes. It is not because the tools and information are not available--they are available. But for our business model, we have chosen not to purchase this equipment."
Two auto repair facilities in New York were recognized by the Coordinating Committee For Automotive Repair (CCAR) as one of the group's GreenLink Shops for the month of May on June 1.
The GreenLink Shop status is an extension of CCAR’s CCAR-GreenLink Environmental Compliance Assistance Center and S/P2 Safety and Pollution Prevention E-learning Program--designed to promote consumer confidence in local automotive repair facilities’ environmental/safety awareness and stewardship.
The new GreenLink Shops are; Tedesco Auto Body, New Rochelle, NY and Wayside Auto Body, Jamaica, NY.
“CCAR is proud to recognize these newest members of the GreenLink Shop program and their commitment to best practices in environmental and safety processes,” said Daren Fristoe, CCAR president and chief operating officer.
CCAR requires that repair facilities seeking the GreenLink Shop recognition must maintain high standards of excellence in environmental, health and safety (EHS) practices in four categories including; business operations, employee training, safety compliance and environmental management.
For more information please visit www.ccar-greenlink.org.
The Click It or Ticket campaign will be in full effect with statewide overtime seat belt enforcement through June 4. Daily enforcement traffic safety checkpoints and saturation patrols will be conducted day & night by 24 state, local, and municipal police agencies statewide. Much of the enforcement will occur in the afternoons and evenings when the majority of unrestrained injuries and fatal crashes occur, according to the Milford Beacon.
Currently, Delaware’s unrestrained fatal crashes are out pacing this time last year. At this time last year 35% of the fatal vehicle occupants were not wearing seat belts compared to 46% currently.
Delaware law requires drivers and all passengers, including those in the back seat, to wear a seat belt. An officer can pull over a driver if he sees any person in the vehicle not wearing a seat belt, even if there is no other violation. Officers will be issuing citations for seat belt violations as part of a zero tolerance policy. The ticket, which goes to the driver no matter who is unbuckled in the vehicle, is a $25 fine plus court costs, which can eventually total as much as $70.
Participating agencies include Dewey, Dover, Elsmere, Felton, Georgetown, Laurel, Milford, Millsboro, New Castle City, New Castle County, Newark, Newport, Rehoboth, Seaford, Wilmington, Wyoming, and Delaware State Police.
Since New Jesery did away with mandatory vehicle safety inspections required to get a valid registration sticker, inspection and fixing of certain items that would have been required for the eliminated safety portion of the motor vehicle evaluation process seem to have slipped from the consciousness of the driving public.
At least that’s what their mechanics are saying after the mechanical, or safety inspection portion, of the process was eliminated in August of 2010. State officials said they’ve seen fewer vehicles come to state inspection stations for emissions testing, which was partly attributed to new regulations exempting new cars from being inspected for five years.
A survey of members of the the New Jersey Gas-Convenience Store Retailers Association said that the number of customers having inspections performed has declined by “significant numbers” and that drivers were putting off the types of mechanical repairs previously needed to pass the state’s safety inspection, when items are brought to their attention.
“Our members are finding two things: A lot of vehicles aren’t getting inspected period, and some drivers are under the impression they don’t need the emissions inspection,” Sal Risalvato, executive director of the association, told the Asbury Park Press. “When we (mechanics) find things and bring it to their attention, they’re choosing not to do certain things, like replace a cracked windshield, or they put it off.”
Bad tires and faulty brakes are the biggest safety concerns and could lead to an accident, Risalvato said.
Allstate New Jersey Insurance Company is pursuing a plan to appoint 25 new agency owners by the end of 2011, the company announced June 1.
Allstate New Jersey, one of the state's largest insurance companies, is targeting successful, self-motivated professionals for a career as an Allstate exclusive agent. Unlike typical entrepreneurships, Allstate New Jersey provides its new agents with essential tools and resources to help them get off to a great start, including: insurance product education, expertise from company sales consultants, customizable marketing and advertising materials, and performance incentives. The company currently has approximately 270 agents and financial representatives throughout the state.
In addition, new and existing Allstate New Jersey agencies are projected to hire hundreds of licensed sales professionals and personal financial representatives. These positions involve selling life insurance, annuities, mutual funds, and other financial services products.
"The Allstate New Jersey opportunity is encouraging news for entrepreneurs looking for a chance to excel in a down economy," said Dale Schueller, regional sales leader, Allstate New Jersey. "If you do not have an insurance background, we will provide you with education to help position you for success."
Heavy winter storm activity has taken its toll on motorists and homeowners in the northeastern United States. Pennsylvania-based insurer Harleysville said the effects of severe winter storms over the area in the last few months will hurt its fourth quarter profits.
“We experienced unusually severe winter weather throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, especially in New England and New York,” said CEO Michael Browne, according to Insurance Journal. “The number of events—coupled with their frequency and closeness to one another in time—combined to produce elevated catastrophe and non-catastrophe claims activity throughout commercial and personal lines. We saw an abnormal increase in water damage, ice dams, roof collapses and fire losses in property, automobile claims, and weather-related casualty losses.
“This extreme weather resulted in significant disruption and financial loss for a large number of our policyholders,” he added.
Catastrophe losses will reduce operating income by $0.21 per share. Harleysville said its combined ratio will reflect significant winter losses not meeting the catastrophe definition, as well as 4.5 points of catastrophe losses for the quarter. In the same quarter, one year-ago, Harleysville has statutory combined ratio of 107.8, which included 10 points of catastrophe losses. Both years’ catastrophe losses exceed the company’s long-term average.
Texting while driving laws in New York may get an upgrade in the coming weeks. Senate Republicans have stated they will push legislation that would allow police to stop and ticket motorists solely for texting while driving.
Using a portable electronic device while at the wheel of a moving vehicle in New York is currently a secondary offense, which means that a person can’t be pulled over for using the device alone. Instead, it must be tacked on to another primary offense.
Legislation sponsored by a dozen Republicans, who currently have majority control of that chamber, would upgrade it to a primary offense.
A group of Senate Democrats have also introduced a similar bill. A companion measure is pending in the Assembly.
Please visit www.nysenate.gov for more information.
The Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee gave its approval on May 3 to House Bill 9, which would impose stricter driving and licensing restrictions for 16- and 17-year-old drivers.
The state currently requires drivers under the age of 18 who are testing for a junior driver's license to have 50 hours of supervised "practical driving experience." The bill would bump up that amount to 65, with at least 10 of those hours being at night and with at least five being in "inclement weather."
The bill would also put passenger restrictions on licensed young motorists. If the bill is ultimately signed into law, these drivers would not be able to have more than one passenger under the age of 18 with them in the car without parental approval.
Passenger restrictions like the one proposed in the bill have been said to help lower crash rates. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the fatal-crash risk with three or more passengers "is about 3 times higher than when a beginner drives alone."
See Background in Previous Story HERE
More than 2,500 drivers have been cited since Delaware’s hands-free cell phone law went into effect at the beginning of 2011, according to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.
Office spokeswoman Alison Kirk says more than 350 people were issued cell phone citations in one day during a statewide crackdown on April 21. She says there have been 30 crashes involving cell phones as a distraction since the ban went into effect.
Cell phone users caught talking on their phones can expect a $50 ticket for their first offense, but after court costs the total can be more than $100. Subsequent cell phone offenses can result in fines between $100 and $200, although there are no points added to an offenders license for a cell phone violation.
Eleven people have been arrested in connection with an insurance fraud scheme allegedly involving University Collision Centers of Philadelphia. A Philadelphia police officer, a personal injury lawyer, seven auto damage appraisers and the owner and the manager of a Philadelphia collision repair shop have been charged in an insurance fraud scheme prosecutors say netted them millions over four years, according to reports made by Joseph A. Slobodzian, of ther Philadelphia Inquirer and
Prosecutors are alleging a forklift was modified by attaching one of three types of car bumpers to the tongues to create a variety of scrapes, dents and tears on automobiles. City prosecutors allege that University Collision workers would then report the damages to insurance companies for inflated payouts.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced the filing of felony charges against 11 people, who allegedly worked together to file numerous fraudulent insurance claims, at a Center City news conference.
The charges are the result of a lengthy undercover probe by the DA's Insurance Fraud Unit (IFU) with assistance from Nationwide Insurance Co., GEICO Insurance Co. and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
"This is not a victimless crime," Williams said. "All Philadelphia consumers are affected."
Among the 11 charged as a result of the 13-month undercover investigation of University Collision Centers by the DA's Insurance Fraud Unit were:
- Philadelphia police officer Gary Cottrell, 44, a 15-year veteran of the force assigned to the 14th District in Germantown and Chestnut Hill. Cottrell allegedly was a "wreck chaser" who traveled throughout the city in uniform to direct accident victims to University Collision. A spokeswoman for the police noted that Cottrell had been suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss. Cottrell faces a maximum of 152 years incarceration. Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross said corrupt officers are a minority of the 6,000-member department: “It’s very sad that all the other men and women on the force have to deal with this.”
- Michael Wolf, 52, of Phoenixville, Chester County, a lawyer with a Philadelphia practice. Wolf allegedly advised University Collision's owner in the fraud and also filed several phony personal injury claims with them. Wolf is a lawyer who has been licensed in Pennsylvania since 1988, and works at the firm of Kotsopoulos & Wolf P.C. They have offices in King of Prussia and Cherry Hill. He allegedly faces 103 years in prison.
- Edward Hildebrandt, 41, of Philadelphia, owner of University Collision, with operations in Gray's Ferry and Manayunk.
- David Coleman, 41, of Chadds Ford, Chester County, identified as manager of University Collision.
The seven vehicle damage appraisers included four from Philadelphia: Arthur Juliano, Addaie Amankwaaw, Cheryl Stanton, and Steve Wilkinson. The others were from South Jersey: Dave Robertson and John Howell, both of Cherry Hill, and Richard Reilly of Mullica Hill,Vicki Markovitz, an Assistant District Attorney, noted that the damage appraisers were independent and reviewed claims for most major insurance companies.
Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) announced April 27 that for the second consecutive year, it has been ranked one of the "Best Places to Work in New Jersey" according to NJBIZ Magazine, New Jersey's primary business journal covering the state. This award was designed to identify, recognize and honor the best places of employment in New Jersey, benefiting the state's economy, its workforce and businesses. The award program, created in 2005, is produced by NJBIZ and sponsored by Gibbons, P.C. and Novo Nordisk and is in partnership with Garden State Council SHRM, The New Jersey State Chamber, Employers Association of New Jersey and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
Allstate responded April 26 to the Insurance Information Institute’s (III) announcement that fraud and abuse in New York State’s no-fault auto insurance system remains at crisis levels. III also revealed the estimated ‘fraud tax’ that New Yorkers paid in 2010 was $204 million—an amount exceeding $200 million for the second consecutive year. The New York State Senate Insurance Committee is holding a hearing on April 26 to examine the issue more closely.
Krista Conte, New York spokesperson for Allstate Insurance Company, said in response to the III announcement:
"We agree with the Insurance Information Institute that the scale of fraud and abuse in New York State's no-fault auto insurance system today has reached crisis levels. Not only is no-fault fraud (auto accident fraud) costing New York consumers and insurers hundreds of millions of dollars, it puts drivers at risk.
"Those who would commit this type of crime are taking advantage of the broken no-fault system and they are organized, calculating and part of a big business. In essence, the perpetrators of this crime are imposing a 'fraud tax' on honest, hard working New Yorkers by gaming the auto insurance system.
"Without the support of lawmakers, incidents of fraud will continue to increase. Responsible citizens are the victims. We urge lawmakers to enact comprehensive, meaningful no-fault insurance reform that puts citizens of New York first."