Repairing Aluminum Body Panels With Collision Damage

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Auto Body Association of Connecticut Legal Counselor Objects to Use of Camera Phone Photos for Estimates

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A growing concern in Connecticut is insurers’ use of camera-phone photos for writing estimates. Rather than having licensed physical property damage appraisers physically inspect a vehicle after a collision, many insurance companies are asking their customers to submit camera phone pictures of the damage, and they are using these photos to write their estimates. Attorney John Parese, who acts as legal counsel for the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC), believes “the growing trend of using camera phone pictures prior to getting a repair professional involved is illegal, unethical, and most importantly, harmful to consumers.”

Furthermore, Parese notes that this practice violates the Connecticut Unfair Insurance Practices Act (CUIPA) and potentially other consumer protection laws. As such, Parese has written to the Connecticut Insurance Department outlining his concerns on behalf of the ABAC, in addition to writing an article for the ABAC member newsletter that emphasizes the possible dangers of this new habit and why he believes it should be declared unlawful.

In his letter to the Connecticut Insurance Department, Parese highlights portions of CUIPA that define unfair insurer practices as misrepresentations of facts and compelling insureds to settle a claim for less than the value of the repair. Though the benefits for insurers to write estimates based on camera phone photos are obvious, it creates the hazard of such estimates only capturing a fraction of the actual damage and thus encompassing only a portion of the cost to restore the vehicle to its pre-loss condition, and this is especially dangerous when claimants pocket the check instead of paying for the repairs, a common practice that is certain to increase when consumers believe the damage is purely cosmetic. Parese’s concern is that “many of these vehicles are not safe to be put back on the road, and the safety of a vehicle often cannot be assessed from a camera phone picture.”

Because claims are being paid based on claimant-taken photos that cannot possibly depict the full extent of damages, Parese sees this practice as “a fundamental misrepresentation of policy or third-party rights and benefits…Insurers have a legal and often fiduciary responsibility to make fair and complete payments for covered losses. This system is plainly designed to save insurers money on its own labor costs (i.e., less paid appraisers) and on the amount it ultimately pays on claims (i.e., calculated underpayment of claims). These savings come at the expense of consumer safety and complete reimbursement.”

In his article for the ABAC newsletter, Parese argues that using camera phone pictures to write an estimate before involving a repair professional in the process appears unethical and illegal based on the Connecticut unfair insurance practices law. In addition to safety and legal concerns, Parese also acknowledges that collision repair facilities suffer from this practice because they are losing work on these needed repairs that insurers are arbitrarily dismissing through the practice of writing estimates based on photos that can only capture cosmetic damages.

Parese hopes that the issues he has raised will convince the Connecticut Insurance Department to prohibit insurers from engaging in this unethical practice in his state. Unfortunately, his battle only encompasses the state of Connecticut, and though he is unfamiliar with the laws in other states, he encourages trade associations across the country to investigate how this trend violates their state laws and to join the battle to protect consumers and the integrity of the collision repair industry.

Mike Anderson Visits Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association to Discuss Estimating Practices, Parts Procurement, and More!

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On May 1, 2014, the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA) hosted industry speaker Mike Anderson for a full-day educational seminar on “The Encyclopedia of Estimating Practices” at the LKQ Training Center in Linthicum Heights, MD. In addition to providing a State of the Industry update, Anderson’s seminar also touched on parts procurement, the future of DRPs, cycle time, and many other topics. Jordan Hendler, Executive Director of WMABA, describes the seminar: “With his usual boisterous and ‘take-me-as-I-come-or-leave-me’ personality, Mike gave attendees more than they bargained for. Safety is his number one priority, and he wants every pair of ears to hear how vehicle technology is changing everything we know about collision repair processes.”

Through his passionate approach, Anderson’s goal was to stress that, despite the importance of focusing on cycle time, safety is an even more pressing concern for collision repairers because the consumer is trusting their repair facility to look out for their best interests and ensure that their car is restored to its pre-loss condition properly. “A lot of people aren’t aware of what it takes to fix a car properly. I don’t mean that disrespectfully; it’s just that the industry is changing so fast that it takes a lot to keep up on things today. You really have to spend time on training,” Anderson emphasizes.

In discussing the impact that a proper repair estimate has on cycle time, Anderson explained, “when you pass on an estimate that’s really incomplete, and another technician finds more damage, you’re just creating inefficiency in your process…Speed is the name of the game. It’s not just about writing an accurate blueprint to fix the car right…Even if you’re not a DRP, you have to get [better] at turning cars quicker just because there is less profit on a job, and you have to turn more cars just to get to the break-even point quicker. We really tried to focus [in the class] on just how the estimate is really the basis for getting the right part the first time and the basis for communicating properly with a customer.”

Anderson discussed everything from receiving proper reimbursement from insurers, to lean processes, reducing stress in the shop environment, and the demands that new technology places on repairers. “We really have to understand that with all this new technology with accident avoidance systems, lane departure systems, and autonomous braking that you can’t  just go through [the vehicle] like in the old days and say, ‘I’m just going to check out all the lights and door locks.’ You have to have a scan tool to actually take and check a lot of these things during an output test and [make] sure they’re working properly.”

Rather than suggesting quick fixes, Anderson provides tools and methods for learning, focusing on the long-term solution of student-initiated learning and adaptation. As part of this initiative, Anderson provided attendees with a list of websites where they can acquire this type of necessary knowledge:

Anderson was pleased with participants’ responses to his seminar: “Everybody was interactive and had lots of great questions. One of things I found really refreshing was there were a lot of young people in the class, particularly young females. It’s really nice to see more and more women represented in the industry. It’s always nice to see young people. With what we do with regards to computers and technology, young people are more open to [this industry].”

As a recurring speaker at WMABA meetings, Anderson praises the association and explains why he is always willing to visit the East Coast to teach WMABA members. “I get the privilege of working with a lot of different trade associations across the country, and I don’t think a lot of people realize what they have in Jordan Hendler as executive director. She is truly one of the most passionate people you can ever meet in the industry.”