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Amended Pa. photo-appraisal bill clears Legislature, goes to Gov. Wolf

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A bill removing a 44-year-old Pennsylvania mandate that auto damage appraisals must be done in person cleared the Legislature on Monday.

The House concurred 129-59 with the Pennsylvania Senate’s amended version, which added the caveat that a disputed supplement must receive a physical visit by the insurer. House Bill 1638 now will move to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for consideration.

“I would like to thank everyone here for their support both in helping us lobby and financially supporting the efforts to stop HB1638,” Pennsylvania Collision Trade Guild Director Steve Behrndt wrote to supporters Monday following their 129-59 loss in the House.

State Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-Chester/Delaware, who’d opposed the original House version as well (see video below), attempted two unsuccessful amendments Monday. State records Tuesday lacked information about their content; we’ve reached out to Barrar for more information. Both failed 138-51.

The bill strikes down a 1972 law — which Barrar has said was passed to check insurer misconduct — barring any appraisals not done in person.

“An appraiser may prepare a repair estimate obtained by personal inspection or by photographs, videos or telephonic means,” HB 1638 states. “An appraiser may not require the submission of photographs or videos in order to obtain an appraisal. An appraiser, or an insurer as part of the appraisal process, shall disclose to the owner of the vehicle that there is no requirement to submit photographs or videos in order to obtain an appraisal.”

Any supplemental appraisals can also be done using photos, videos or a phone call, but a personal inspection is necessary should there be any dispute.

The Pennsylvania bill, introduced in October 2015 and first passed by the House on Dec. 7, 2015, was the first in a series of three East Coast attempts to end photo appraisal bans.

It was followed by a version proposed by Democratic Insurance Commissioner Karen Stewart’s administration on Jan. 1 and another by Virginia state Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Westmoreland counties, on Jan. 4.

Following a repairer-insurer compromise in Virginia — already signed into law — to include the need for a personal inspection in a dispute, the Delaware and Pennsylvania versions were amended with similar language. The PCTG continued to oppose the Pennsylvania version, and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists issued a rare state-level opinion on the Delaware proposal. Both cited the type of damage which might not be evident in a photo.

Public comment ended March 31 on the Delaware version, and Stewart hasn’t yet issued a decision on the matter.

Ironically, last year, another East Coast state reversed itself and dropped photo-only appraisals just months before all of this. The Massachusetts Auto Damage Appraiser Licensing Board on July 21, 2015, unanimously repealed its 2014 decision to allow such estimating.

Featured image: A bill removing a 44-year-old Pennsylvania mandate that auto damage appraisals must be done in person cleared the Legislature on Monday. (Manuel Faba Ortega/iStock/Thinkstock)

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