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Midwestern News

1HomePageMap small mw 0816Local news stories affecting the auto body industry in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin

Axalta Coating Systems’ Mount Clemens, MI, facility was presented with the Michigan Values Veterans (MV2) certification at the Michigan Values Veterans conference presented by TMG, Inc. in Troy, MI.

The certification is for the Axalta pledge to hire and retain U.S. veterans. “We are very excited to be one of the first companies involved with the Michigan Values Vets Initiative,” said Virginia Gronley, Axalta learning and development consultant.

“As one of Mount Clemens’ largest employers, we believe in attracting, hiring, and retaining the best talent out there. And with the discipline and focus that many of our veterans have, it’s a great talent pool for us.” MV2 is an economic investment initiative that offers an opportunity to recapitalize the Michigan workforce, while reducing veteran unemployment.

A fire at a Milford auto body shop that left two dead on February 14, 2014, was caused by an electrical malfunction, according to the Kosciusko County Fire Investigation Team. The fire happened in the morning at the Medina’s Body Repair Shop at 310 North Higbee Street in Milford, IN. The identity of a woman found dead has been confirmed by the Kosciusko County Coroner’s Office and a man found on the first floor is presumed to be Jose Cruz Medina. Annalu Nunez, age 25, Medina’s fiance, was found by firefighters on the second floor of the building. The coroner said she died of smoke inhalation.

Police said Nunez and Medina both had the body shop’s address listed as their residence. Police had said the two people who died lived in an apartment above the body shop. Medical examiners of the Northeast Indiana Forensic Center determined the man also died of smoke inhalation. But, authorities are waiting for DNA testing to be completed to confirm a positive identification of Medina. The fire was ruled accidental.

The Kosciusko County Fire Investigation Team sent out a release on February 18, 2014, stating that “the fire originated in the ceiling of a work bay and spread throughout the structure. Evidence found at the scene indicates an electrical malfunction in the wiring supplying power to a ceiling light.”

The fire was called in just after 7:00 a.m. State Route 15 was closed near East Syracuse Street while fire crews—three different departments—battled the flames. Because it is a body shop with presumed oil, gas, and a paint storage area were all potential dangers for the firefighters.

The roof was also sagging in and one wall is bowed. For all of these reasons, emergency workers were at first unable to get inside to check for the residents of an apartment above the northwest corner of the shop.

“They were happy together, and they’re together again now,” said Alex Nunez, Analu’s brother. Analu was a secretary for Medina’s Body Shop. “She was always making somebody happy, her smile. That’s just how she was,” said Alex Nunez.

Cars were coming into the LJI Collision Center on Chagrin Road in Orange Village, OH, two at a time on February 5, 2014. “They just keep coming in, the weather and the salt shortage have made it rough for drivers,” says owner, Jill Strauss. “This winter has been much worse. Cars are just sliding across the roads and need to get towed in. We are working late nights and weekends to catch up.” The banged up bumpers and off-kilter wheels underscore the slick road conditions that have been worsened this year as 44 counties in Ohio have seen a massive salt shortage because of backlogged salt provider, Morton Salt. “We have never had an issue like this in the heart of the winter, and we will plan differently in the future as a result,” says Bill Boag, the head of Shaker Heights Public Works. “I've called the Morton Salt people—and my calls were not returned. As a result of the shortage, we have to be stingy and think outside of the box for next year.” Boag says not only will Shaker Heights order more salt and expand storage options, it will not rely on one vendor.

“We will never go with one contractor again, I would bet,” he said.

The Ohio Automobile Dealers Association is pushing legislation that it says will amend the state dealer franchise law to more explicitly ban factory-owned stores. Association leaders contend that the existing Ohio law should have prevented Tesla from getting licenses for its stores in Cincinnati and Columbus, according to an article in Automotive News.

“The legislation reinforces what we’ve always believed the laws to be: that a manufacturer cannot hold a dealer’s license to sell vehicles at retail,” said Sara Bruce, the association vice president of legal affairs. “If there was any misunderstanding of what the law is or what the definition of a new motor dealer is, this certainly does clarify it.”

A Tesla executive says that the electric vehicle maker stores in Ohio comply with current state law and that the company properly applied for and received the licenses. “The Tesla approach doesn’t hurt existing dealerships,” said Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla vice president of business development.

“We’re not out to eviscerate the dealer business model,” O’Connell told Automotive News. “We’re out there simply to introduce a new technology in the manner we think is most effective.”

While the legislative battle plays out, the dealers association and some of its members also are deciding whether to appeal the dismissal of their lawsuit against Tesla and the Ohio agencies that issue dealer licenses.

A court magistrate dismissed that lawsuit on February 6, 2014, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.

Tesla executives and representatives from the Ohio dealers association testified last week on the proposed legislation at Ohio Senate committee hearings. Previous efforts by the dealers association to amend the statute failed late last year.

James Chen, Tesla vice president of regulatory affairs, told senators that passage of the bill would limit consumer choice, stifle inter-brand competition, and allow Ohio dealers to establish a monopoly that current law does not allow.

Joe Cannon, vice president of government relations for the Ohio dealers association, told senators that the Tesla store licensing opens the door for all manufacturers—both emerging and existing—to follow the same path. “That puts dealership employment and the substantial investments dealers have made in their communities at risk,” he said.

Friday, 28 February 2014 01:57

MN Laws Said to Encourage Insurance Scammers

Insurers, prosecutors, and lawmakers from both parties argued that loose Minnesota laws encourage insurance scammers as the coalition made a case for 11 legislative measures they say will crack down on costly fraud. The proposals headed to the legislature for consideration in the upcoming session represent a rare area of partisan consensus around the Minnesota no-fault insurance laws. They were honed through a working group that drew in factions from the medical, insurance, and trial lawyer communities.

“It is not a victimless crime. Virtually everyone in the state of Minnesota pays the price for insurance fraud,” said Mark Kulda of the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, who appeared at a news conference to announce the anti-fraud package.

The bills would close perceived loopholes in claims processing, information sharing, investigations, and fraud prosecutions. While the type of fraud varies, some of it involves people using minor car accidents to gain access to prescription medication they later resell. In other cases, unscrupulous contractors prey on storm victims with home-insurance claims for work never performed.

Among the proposed steps:

—Allow the Minnesota commerce commissioner to impose civil penalties for acts of fraud, which is seen as easier than obtaining criminal convictions.
—Limit access to auto accident records that can be used by schemers to solicit victims unknowingly used to perpetrate fraud.
—Give insurance companies liability protection when they exchange claims data with law enforcement that can be analyzed to spot fraud rings.

As states including New York and Florida stiffen their insurance laws, advocates of the new measures say people who engage in fraud are looking for weak spots.

Tim Lynch, government relations director at the industry-backed National Insurance Crime Bureau, said fraud schemes have migrated to Minnesota.

Terry Beswick, an auto body parts retailer, repair man, and new Clinton, IA, business owner, has established himself as an auto body mechanic in Fulton, IA, but, his newest creation, the “It’s a Life Saver” device, is something he calls his best idea yet.

Beswick said, “I spend a lot of time thinking about things that can help people and save them money, and a lot of people have told me this is the best idea I’ve had.”

The “It’s a Life Saver” device is similar in purpose to a car alarm, which is designed to alert the owner of criminal mischief to a vehicle. By taking that concept, Beswick created, essentially, an alarm for the house that is triggered by a small remote button, just like a vehicle alarm. Beswick designed it to be activated in emergency situations, including medical crisis or home intrusion scenarios in which getting to a phone to dial 911 is not easily accessible. When activated, the apparatus sounds an alarm that can be heard within approximately one block of the home, alerting neighbors that trouble is abound.

“People have car alarms, so I started thinking why don’t houses have similar alarms?” Beswick said. “This is different than a security system too because those are hundreds of dollars plus annual fees that you have to pay. This is a one time cost of US$250 plus a US$50 installation fee.”

Not only does Beswick offer the device at the one-time flat rate, he also guarantees that, if it does indeed save a life, a full refund will be rewarded to the victim.

“I figure if this thing saves your life, you’ve already had a pretty rotten day so why not put 250 bucks back in your pocket?” he added.

While the new store on the corner of South Second Street and Fourth Avenue South is designed to promote the alarm, he also obtained the active corner location to help boost activity at his Fulton-based auto body shop.

In addition to selling the device, he also will offer auto body parts for people interested in car restoration, or who just need to replace a part on their car.

“My store is mainly going to be focused on letting people know about my shop and for the do-it-yourself guys who like to fix up cars,” Beswick said.