Auto insurance companies often direct body shops to repair damaged vehicles with cheap fixes instead of following the auto manufacturer’s repair guidelines – a practice that puts unsuspecting motorists at risk of injury and death.
A recent case that went to trial in Texas demonstrates how dealerships and auto insurance companies could be left on the hook for millions of dollars in damages for cutting corners and repairing vehicles with cheap, unsafe fixes.
According to Automotive News, a Texas dealership and State Farm found themselves faced with paying the bulk of $42 million in damages – the price a Dallas County jury put on injuries suffered by a couple whose 2010 Honda Fit was improperly repaired.
Plaintiffs Marcia and Matthew Seebachan were severely injured in December 2013 when a Toyota Tundra collided with their vehicle head-on. The couple was trapped inside their burning vehicle because the roof of their Honda Fit collapsed and trapped them inside.
The Seebachans had owned the Honda Fit for just four months before the crash. Court documents stated that John Eagle Collision Center, a body shop operated by John Eagle Auto Group in Dallas, used glue instead of welds to fix hailstorm damage to the Fit’s roof under a previous owner when Honda’s repair manual calls for more than a hundred welds in a roof replacement.
According to Automotive News, the body shop made the cheaper auto repairs under the direction of State Farm Insurance Co., the vehicle’s insurer. Gluing the roof to the Honda Fit saved State Farm about $3,000, but the savings came at the cost of safety.
When the Seebachans bought the vehicle, the roof repair was not included in the vehicle’s history report, court documents state.
The plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit in October, accusing State Farm of negligence, deceptive trade practices, and breach of warranty for demanding that the body shop not follow Honda’s repair standards.
According to Automotive News, the lawsuit cites Honda’s 2008-13 Fit body repair manual, which says: “Any person who intends to use a replacement part, a repair procedure or a tool that is not recommended by Honda must determine the risks to their personal safety and the safe operation of the vehicle.”
“Juries don’t like repair facilities getting bullied by the insurance companies,” a lawyer representing the Seebachans told Automotive News.
“From a tort law perspective, if you got an automobile insurer that’s pressuring dealers to cut corners in doing repairs in ways that make the cars unsafe, I’d take that case,” Tom Baker, a tort and insurance law expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, told Automotive News.
The jury in the Seebachans’ case found that the driver of the Toyota pickup that hit the Seebachans was 25 percent liable for the $42 million, and the rest fell on the body shop and State Farm.
After the jury’s decision, the dealer and the Seebachans’ lawyer issued a joint statement calling on “the collision repair industry across the nation to follow OEM (original equipment manufacturer) bulletins instead of insurance companies’ mandates when they repair vehicles.”