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Defeated Pa. photo-appraisal amendments would have required physical inspection of totaled cars, reiterated desk reviewers must be licensed

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A Pennsylvania representative who’d unsuccessfully attempted Monday to alter a bill permitting photo-driven auto damage appraisals described his efforts Tuesday.

One of the two amendments from state Rep. Stephen Barrar, R-Chester/Delaware counties, would have spelled out that a Pennsylvania-licensed appraiser must conduct the desk reviews — even if state law already indicates that.

The other would have required vehicles declared a total loss from a photo appraisal to still receive a physical inspection.

Both failed 138-51 on Monday before the House concurred with the Senate version of House Bill 1638, 129-59, and sent it to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

One could say he had “a serious mistrust of the insurance industry,” Barrar said Tuesday when asked about his amendments. Barrar also opposed the bill the first time it passed the House (video below).

Regarding the licensing issue, Barrar wondered if HB 1638 could be interpreted that only a physical inspection needs a licensed appraiser.

“Why should the guy reviewing the photos not have to meet the same requirement?” Barrar said Tuesday. He posed a scenario where “some guy sitting in Sri Lanka” receives a photo with instructions to “slap a number on there.”

Barrar said sponsor Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Dauphin/Schuylkill counties, told him the law would apply to desk reviewers as well — they must be Pennsylvania licensed appraisers. But Barrar still argued the reiteration would be worthwhile.

“Even if it was redundant, it still protects the consumer,” Barrar said.

Pennsylvania law penalizes anyone doing an appraiser’s work without a state license; they’d face up to a $500 fine and a year in prison. Based on that and the references in the bill to an “appraiser,” a photo of a Pennsylvania policyholder’s car couldn’t be sent to just anybody.

“No person shall directly or indirectly act or hold himself out as an appraiser unless such person has first secured a license from the commissioner in accordance with the provisions of this act,” state law holds. Applicants for licenses must be Pennsylvania residents or live somewhere with appraisal reciprocity.

Tobash has said that besides providing greater customer convenience in a smartphone age, the bill would eliminate an opportunity for steering by letting customers transmit claim photos and go to the shop of their choice. Shops have alleged that insurers use appraisal visit delays — whether actual or simply implied to customers during steering — to punish non-preferred shops.

But the Pennsylvania Collision Trade Guild opposed the measure, citing the potential for thousands of dollars in damage to be missed. An independent appraiser also said customers who cash a settlement check based on a photo might find themselves short-paid.


Asked about other auto insurance or auto body measures on his radar, Barrar on Tuesday said he was working on a measure relevant to the state’s towers. He seeks to enact some “due process” and standardization in the process of how the Pennsylvania State Police cease sending business to certain state towers.

If taken off the list of approved vendors, towing companies would receive a chance to appeal under Barrar’s concept. He also seeks to create uniformity among the field regulations governing the list.

“Every barracks commander interprets them differently,” Barrar said. He noted that some barracks with fewer options for towers might be more lenient than areas with heavier tower competition.

Barrar tried a similar bill a couple of years ago, but “it died.” He’s in the process of gathering information and talking with PSP and hasn’t formally filed anything yet this session.

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