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
Insurance Journal reported that a former northeastern Pennsylvania insurance executive has been sentenced to 5 1/2 to 16 1/2 years in state prison in what prosecutors said was a pyramid scheme worth at least $7 million. Brian Murray, 68, former head of Murray Insurance Agency Inc., was arrested in July, 2010 by agents from the state attorney general’s insurance fraud section. He pleaded no contest in June to felony counts of criminal conspiracy, theft by deception and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds. Murray was sentenced in Lackawanna County Court.
Prosecutors said he and others took premiums from new clients to conceal the thefts from others and never procured the insurance the customers thought they were paying for. Moses Taylor Hospital, Mount Airy Casino Resort and the University of Scranton were among the alleged victims of Murphy’s fraud.
Some of the fraud was uncovered after Pennsylvania Manufacturers Insurance and Travelers Insurance conducted audits of Murray’s accounts.
Allstate Corp. lost $500 million on Hurricane Irene, the largest publicly traded home and auto insurer in the United States said September 15, much less than it lost from tornadoes earlier this year.
In total, Allstate said its July and August disaster losses came to $865 million before tax. The company did not break out the source of the other losses besides Irene.
In April and May, Allstate lost $2 billion because of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. That nearly equaled its disaster losses for all of 2010.
Industry estimates on the damage caused by Irene have varied widely, in part because most of Irene’s damage was from federally insured flooding and not privately insured wind effects.
Some estimates suggest the total privately insured loss from the storm was less than $2 billion.
Allstate began releasing select monthly disaster data earlier this year after pressure from analysts, who wanted more clarity on the company’s catastrophe exposure.
After Hurricane Irene came through the New Jersey area at the end of August, the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of New Jersey (AASP/NJ) decided to reach out to its members affected by Hurricane Irene, offering to help in any way possible, according to a recent statement from the organization.
“The damage done in New Jersey, particularly the northern part of our state, has been devastating for several of our members,” says AASP/NJ Jeff McDowell. “We are contacting our members to let them know that AASP/NJ is here for them and willing to help in any way we can.”
The AASP/NJ was urged to help their members affected by this storm by former AASP/NJ President Glenn Villacari of Parkway Auto Body in Nutley, NJ.
“Glenn contacted our office and suggested that we reach out to our members,” adds AASP/NJ Executive Director Charles Bryant. “He even offered his own personal assistance to other shop owners who might need help cleaning out the muck and debris from their shops.”
New Jersey officials issued a statement at a packed community hearing August 29 assuring residents that efforts by Ford to gain ownership over a section of a state park where the car company dumped toxic waste are off the table.
The news follows a long-running grassroots effort and popular petition on Change.org to clean up the toxic waste left by Ford at Ringwood State Park in the 1960s and 1970s.
The state's statement represents a major shift in the local effort to clean-up the contamination of Ringwood State Park, a campaign that has received national attention in recent weeks and was the subject of an HBO documentary that aired last month.
More than 200 people packed the Ringwood Library for the Environmental Protect Agency hearing on Ringwood site clean-up on August 23. Members of the Ramapough tribe, a community severely affected by Ford's toxic dumping, delivered nearly 70,000 petition signatures to both EPA and Ford representatives.
Edison Wetlands Association, the New Jersey group that has been leading the campaign to strengthen the clean-up effort for seven years, launched the petition on Change.org following rumors Ford was attempting to gain control over the site of Peter's Mine, one of the most contaminated areas of Ringwood State Park, before the EPA had finalized plans to remove the toxic waste. The EPA is currently considering seven options for site clean-up, ranging from completely removing toxic material to the more controversial option of capping affected areas.
Pennsylvania has a long way to go to meet national best practices for highway safety. The risk on the road is real: 1,256 people died in fatal car accidents in 2009.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering three bills that supporters believe will make the roads safer for all drivers. One proposal is a bill that would allow municipal police to use radar to catch drivers who speed. Another proposal would allow red light cameras state-wide. And, once again, the state is trying to enact a ban on talking or texting on cell phones while driving.
Following certification by the Massachusetts Attorney General of its proposed ballot question, the Right to Repair Coalition announced September 7 that it will immediately begin collecting signatures to place this important pro-consumer initiative petition before the voters. Supporters have until November 23 to get the nearly 70,000 signatures required to secure placement of the question on the 2012 ballot.
The proposed Right to Repair law would require automobile manufacturers to provide directly to consumers the diagnostic and safety information needed to repair their cars at the shop of their choice Currently, auto manufacturers provide only some of the diagnostic and safety information needed to repair vehicle owners’ cars with independent technicians, limiting consumers’ choices and losing business for neighborhood repair shops.
“If the car manufacturers can continue to manipulate the market by withholding information, then do I really own the car?” said Jeff McLeod of Marshfield and one of the original signers of the initiative petition approved by the Attorney General September 7.
When I first met Greg Coccaro, the owner of North State Custom in Bedford Hills, New York, I was immediately struck by his passion for his business, his customers and his industry. But it was his frustration with the inequities inherent in his chosen field that truly captured my attention. I listened as Greg explained to me what a DRP was, how his labor rate was determined by someone other than himself and what the practice of “steering” had done to his and other businesses like his. Having spent nearly 20 years litigating for and against insurance companies, I was aware of the power an insurance company can exert. However as Greg explained to me the realities of the collision repair industry, I was admittedly shocked by what I heard.
The Case of North State v. Progressive Insurance
In 2007, as attorney for North State Custom, I commenced a lawsuit against Progressive Insurance alleging that Progressive engaged in deceptive business practices and interference with North State’s business and customers. The case has survived two motions to dismiss, two appeals and a separate action brought by Progressive against North State resulting in two separate jury trials. (For a summary of the Progressive v. North State saga see autobodynews.com, Cocarro Case Takes a Wide Turn...). While the case against Progressive has not yet been resolved and in fact we expect a jury trial to be held sometime next year, a recent court ruling in the matter has significant impact for the industry as a whole.
A Syracuse (NY) City Court judge has denied a motion by Nationwide Insurance seeking dismissal of an “assignment of proceeds” case brought against the insurer by Nick Orso’s Body Shop. The shop sued on behalf of two customers for repair costs not paid for by Nationwide, which argued that the customers’ policies prohibited them from assigning claimed losses to another party without the insurer’s prior permission.
Judge Rory McMahon, citing a decision in a similar case last fall also involving Nick Orso’s Body Shop, ruled that anti-assignment clauses are valid for assignments prior to a loss and claim (when that could impact the insurer’s exposure) but not after. Orso’s attorney argued successfully that Nationwide has no interest in preventing a post-loss assignment of proceeds “other than an insurer’s desire to make it as cumbersome as possible for the insured to obtain what is owed under the insurance contract.”
The judge, however, did not find that Nationwide’s motion for dismissal of the case was brought in bad faith, and he therefore denied the shop’s request to have its court and attorney costs paid for by the insurer.
State Farm will drastically reduce the size of its operations center in Parsippany over the next two years, moving about 500 New Jersey jobs to New York and Pennsylvania to cut costs and improve efficiency, the company said July 26 according to NorthJersey.com.
Most of the Parsippany office’s functions will be consolidated into its two other Northeast operations centers, in upstate Ballston Spa, NY and Concordville, PA. Some of the Parsippany employees will be offered jobs in those locations, the company said
The Christie administration was “proactive” in trying to persuade State Farm to keep the jobs in New Jersey, but the insurer’s decision was final, company spokesman Doug Nadeau said. Employees were notified July 24, he said. A bodily injury claims office and a sales training office will remain in Parsippany, but it is unclear how many will be employed there. The Parsippany center currently employs about 700.
“State Farm hopes to retain the largest amount of employees possible,” Nadeau said. Employees who do not want to relocate will be offered severance packages, he said.
A satellite office in Farmingdale, NJ, that employs a dozen people also is slated for closing and a claims office in Melville, NY will be consolidated into one in Lakeville, NY. The changes, expected to be completed by September 2013, are to “better serve customers and achieve business goals through increased efficiency, reduced expenses and establishment of more consistent operations,” Nadeau said.
The New York Insurance Association has noted that the 2000 Honda Civic is again the most frequently stolen vehicle in New York State, according to Insurance Journal.
The Hot Wheels 2011 study released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) examines data reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and determines the vehicle make, model, and model year most reported stolen in 2010.
The study found that the 2000 Honda Civic topped the list of the most frequently stolen vehicles in New York State for the fourth year in a row.
In 2010, the most stolen vehicles in New York State were:
1. 2000 Honda Civic
2. 1994 Honda Accord
3. 1991Toyota Camry
4. 1996 Nissan Maxima
5. 2000 Dodge Caravan
6. 2005 Nissan Altima
7. 2009 Toyota Corolla
8. 2009 Ford Econoline E350
9. 2002 Ford Explorer
10. 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee
“Auto theft continues to decline in New York State,” Ellen Melchionni, president of NYIA stated. “But drivers still need to take prudent steps to prevent their vehicle from being stolen.”