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Hailstorm struck car dealers hard; insurance companies assessing damage

POSTED: March 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.
HARRIS BLACKWOOD /The Times

Latrel Gaither of Milton Martin Honda looks at two vehicles that were declared a total loss when high winds toppled a tree on the dealership's property Saturday.

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The storms that struck the Gainesville area on Saturday wreaked havoc by dumping hail on the lots of a number of the area’s new car dealers.

Wayne Alexander of Hardy Chevrolet estimated that 300 of the 500 cars on the lot suffered some degree of hail damage.

"That may be conservative," Alexander said, adding that his staff has not completed conducting a car-by-car inspection of the new and used vehicles.

At Moss Robertson Cadillac-Mazda-Isuzu, more than 100 cars suffered some degree of damage from the storm, according to Marvin Mattson, general sales manager for the dealership.

"We moved as many as we could indoors," Mattson said. His desk was filled with brochures from dent repair companies who were seeking the dealership’s business.

At Milton Martin Honda, a pine tree toppled by the high winds rendered at least two brand new Hondas a total loss. A total of 63 cars were damaged at the dealership.

Butch Miller, vice president and general manager of the dealership, said that new cars would either be fully repaired or would be declared a total loss, depending on the extent of the damage.

"On used cars, the consumer might say they would rather have a discount than have the car repaired. In those cases, there would be an opportunity to save some money," Miller said.

He was meeting at the time with insurance adjusters to determine the amount by which the vehicle price would be reduced. He said his carrier was working with 12 dealerships in the region who had suffered similar damage on Saturday.

Alexander said he was awaiting representatives from two insurance companies to arrive today to determine the extent of the losses at the Chevrolet dealership. He said any sales of hail-damaged vehicles would have to wait until the insurance review is complete.

Mattson said his dealership would also be discounting some of the vehicles that suffered hail damage.

Insured losses from the storm were not limited to car dealerships. Myles Mitchom, a spokesman for State Farm, the state’s largest insurer, said the company had initiated 2,000 claims on Monday morning from customers with homeowner and auto policies.

Cotton States Insurance reported more than 500 claims on Monday.

"Our people were on the ground soon after the storms left the area," said Bobby Holton, vice president of claims at Cotton States. There was no estimate on the amount of the losses.

Georgia Farm Bureau, another major insurer in North Georgia, reported a similar number of claims in the region, including 40 in Hall County and 60 in Forsyth County. To the northeast in Elbert County, the company reported 126 claims, according to spokesman Paul Belliveau.



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