Photo Appraisals Put Pennsylvania Drivers At More Risk

The photo appraisals bill floated through the Pennsylvania Congress in the fall of 2015. This bill, HB 1638 was floating around the Pennsylvania Congress to permit drivers to send photographic images of collision damage to someone at the insurance company INSTEAD of estimates at a qualified auto body shop like Alan’s Collision Center.

Our General Manager Jim Pfau fought long and hard with a phone campaign to house representatives to try and educate congressmen about the bill and its pro-insurance bent. The bill was put on hold awhile; yet, the backlash about it did not stop it from wending its way to the governor’s desk.

In April 2016, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill amending the Motor Vehicle Physical Damage Appraiser Act. The amendment removes the requirement that insurance appraisals be prepared based on a personal inspection of a damaged vehicle, and allows the use of digital images and photographs as photo appraisals.

The bill was opposed by the Pennsylvania Collision Trade Guild (PCTG), of which Alan’s Collision Center is a member. The primary concern of the PCTG is consumer safety.

Jim Pfau explains that this bill is a hindrance to collision repair because photo appraisals as estimates require the need for more supplements. Many auto body repair jobs require supplements (where the collision repair service goes back to the insurance company to get additional funds to complete a repair on a vehicle); however, with images only and the insurance company writing checks for repair prior to a visual, in-person inspection this complicates the process.

Another owner of a Pennsylvania auto body repair shop shared his comments, too.

“The purpose of the insurance policy is to indemnify the policyholder and/or claimant,” said Steve Behrndt, owner of Crawford’s Auto Center in Downingtown, Pa. “Photo estimating is in direct conflict with the obligation of the insurance policy. Coercing the vehicle owner into believing a simple photo downloaded to a desk reviewer will provide the same expert inspection by a state licensed physical damage appraiser prove a wanton disregard forced upon unsuspecting and unaware consumers.”

The Photo Appraisals Law

Now that the bill has become law, what do you need to be aware of?

  • First, it’s important to remember that a photo does not capture the complete picture of the potential damages to your vehicle. It may show the visible damage to the body or bumper. But it won’t show damage to the frame that can happen, even in minor fender benders. Those are the hidden damages only a certified appraiser can spot in a physical inspection. And those are the damages most critical to the safe operation of your vehicle and the cost of repairing it.
  • The second thing you need to be aware of is how to deal with your insurance company.

Insurance companies lobbied hard in favor of this law. Their primary interest in it is to limit the cost of claims paid out. The photo estimating provision helps them to do that. Relying solely on a photo estimate enables insurers to offer the lowest possible settlement to your claim, and it can easily overlook thousands of dollars of damages the camera misses. The end result is you can be short-paid on your claim.

That means you will have to take extra steps to recover your loss and to have your vehicle restored to its pre-accident condition.

The new law requires insurers to do a personal inspection ONLY if a repair is disputed. If your collision repair shop discovers more serious damage over and above the photo-estimated claim, you have to ask your insurance company for a supplemental payment to recover the full loss. Before the supplemental claim can be approved, an insurance appraiser has to do a physical inspection and agree with the assessment of your repair shop.

Another consideration for dealing with photo estimates and insurance companies is the potential for them to shift liability onto you.

For example, your insurance company asks you to provide a photo of vehicle damages from a collision. Then they issue you a claim check. If you decide to cash the check and not have the repair work done, you are at risk of assuming future liability. If you have another accident due in part to undiscovered damages from the first collision, you could be liable (not your insurance company) for all the losses in the accident.

Proponents of the law intended to give customers more convenience by letting them transmit photos via smartphones and go to the repair shop of their choice. But customers need to be aware of the risks that go along with that convenience.

Ultimately a physical inspection by a Pennsylvania licensed appraiser will help protect the safety of you, your family, and other drivers on the road – as well as protecting the value of your automotive investment.

At Alan’s Collision Center, we will accept images of your collision. In light of this law, though, we will be more vigilant to ensure repair needs are inspected and spelled out up front. Photo appraisals are NOT the way to go in collision repair.