What to Do After an Accident Due to an Improper Vehicle Repair, Inspection, or Modification
Getting your vehicle back from the dealership, mechanic shop, or customization shop in an unsafe condition is a scary thought. Since most of us do not have the necessary expertise to ensure that our vehicles are repaired safely, we take our vehicles to and trust the specialists to make sure that our vehicles are safe for the road. But when specialists, dealerships, rental agencies, or repair/customization shops fail to follow their legal obligations, the results can be catastrophic.
If you suspect that improper vehicle repair, inspection, or customization may have caused or contributed to your injuries, you may want to retain legal counsel to investigate. Not only may this ensure that the proper parties are held responsible, it may also prevent future incidents.
In this article:
- Defective Vehicle Repairs or Modifications
- Improper Automobile Repair Case Focus: Saakyan v. Modern Auto
- Select Laws Regarding Improper Vehicle Repair, Inspections, and Customization
- Dealership Fails to Use Torque Wrench: Regueiro v. Honda Dealership
- Dealership Fails to Perform Recall Resulting in Triple Fatality Crash
Defective Vehicle Repairs or Modifications
In this section:
- What are Defective Vehicle Repairs or Improper Inspections?
- The Difference Between Improper Vehicle Repairs and Product Recalls
- Usual Documentation in an Improper Vehicle Repair Claim
Inadequate or unsafe vehicle repairs or modifications can manifest themselves immediately or thousands of miles down the road. When we take our vehicles to the professionals to be repaired, inspected, or customized, we are entitled to believe that these individuals will ensure that our vehicle will be returned to us in a safe and roadworthy condition. When this expectation is not met, we end up risking not only our own lives, but the lives of our loved ones and those around us.
What are Defective Vehicle Repairs or Improper Inspections?
Defective auto repairs or improper inspections can range from failing to notice that a vehicle’s tire is worn and informing the customer about it all the way to using the incorrect parts which result in a vehicle fire. Negligent vehicle repairs may include failing to perform repairs in accordance with the applicable “duty of care” or “accepted trade standards”. The consequences from such can result in a vehicle crash causing catastrophic injuries or even death.
Examples of Defective Vehicle Repairs or Inspections
Examples of improper vehicle repairs or inspections include:
- A customization shop installing aftermarket wheels on a vehicle which are too large for it making the vehicle unstable and more likely to rollover.
- An automotive dealership failing to use a torque wrench to properly tighten the bolts on a brake system which results in the driver losing control.
- A truck repair shop failing to check the slack adjusters on a truck’s air brake system which in turn causes the truck’s brakes to fail while going down a hill.
- A tire shop failing to warn a customer that his or her vehicle’s tires need to be replaced resulting in the driver losing control of the vehicle in the rain.
- A mechanic using the wrong lug nuts to attach a wheel to a vehicle which causes the wheel to come off the vehicle.
The Difference Between Improper Vehicle Repairs and Product Recalls
Improper vehicle repair or inspection usually involves a vehicle which could have been repaired in a safe fashion (i.e. properly tightening the bolts during a part replacement), but was not done correctly . Conversely, product recalls are issued by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA or the vehicle’s manufacturer. Recalls are typically issued after the vehicle manufacturer or the NHTSA finds that vehicles are unsafe due to a design defect, manufacturing issue, or inadequate warning which usually existed when the vehicle left the factory.
While the two are typically mutually exclusive, a combination of both can exist. For example, if a vehicle is taken to a dealership to have its oil changed, but the tires on the vehicle are also recalled and the dealership fails to replace the tires, then the dealership could be responsible if a crash occurred due to the recalled tire.
Usual Documentation in an Improper Vehicle Repair Claim
It is wise to keep the repair, inspection, and maintenance documents generated by the repair shop or dealership. Such documentation can help demonstrate what work was done or not done in the event a dispute arises about the scope of the work in the future. It can also sometimes show the mileage on the vehicle at the time of repair, the date(s) the repairs were performed, and provide the identity of the individual(s) who worked on the vehicle. On some occasions, the repair shop or dealership may also claim that the vehicle was never at the shop or that the customer did not request that the repairs be performed. The documentation can help prove otherwise.
The California Automotive Repair Act established the regulatory agency BAR (Bureau of Automotive Repair) for oversight of repair shops in California, including helping customers determine if a shop is a licensed auto shop. The act requires that any mechanic or shop intending to perform an auto repair must be registered and licensed with the BAR and abide by a code of conduct for transparency on repair work. This transparency includes:
- That work orders to be signed by the customer must “state the requested repairs by the customer”
- That a copy of any document requiring the customer’s signature must be given to the customer
Improper Automobile Repair Case Focus:
Saakyan v. Modern Auto
Oganes Saakyan picked up his Honda Accord from Modern Auto (an automobile customization shop) where he had aftermarket rims installed. As he and three friends drove on the 605 Freeway, one of the aftermarket rims became trapped in the wheel well since the BMW rim was too wide for the Honda. The Honda suddenly jerked to the left, then veered right, rolling down an embankment. Due to the crash, Oganes, then only 16 years of age, became paralyzed.
In the aftermath of the collision, our office discovered that the owner of Modern Auto had talked Oganes into purchasing aftermarket BMW rims for his Honda since the rims that Oganes had initially purchased were sold by Modern Auto to another customer. Knowing that the BMW rims were too wide for Oganes’ Honda, Modern Auto tried to widen the wheel wells by rolling the fenders (placing a baseball bat between the wheel and fender and rolling the bat back and forth to make the wheel well larger) in an attempt to make the wider BMW rims fit.
Unbeknownst to Oganes and despite Modern Auto’s attempt to make the rims fit, the wheels still would rub against the inside of the wheel well when the suspension of the vehicle was compressed. While Oganes drove the Honda on the 605 freeway with the new rims, he went over a bump. This caused the suspension to compress and one of the BMW rims to get caught within the wheel well. As a result, the Honda rotated around the trapped wheel and caused Oganes to crash.
Garo demonstrated to the jury this subpar customization was the cause of the crash and Oganes’ catastrophic injuries. After a long hard fought twelve year battle, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in Oganes’ favor. The total payout at the end was $25,300,000.00.
Select Laws Regarding Improper Vehicle Repair, Inspections, and Customization
In this section:
- Who Can be Sued for Improper Vehicle Repairs, Inspections, and Customization
- Compensation for Collisions Caused by Negligent Repairs, Inspections, and Customizations
Who Can be Sued for Improper Vehicle Repairs, Inspections, and Customization?
Repair shops, mechanics, dealerships, tire shops, customization shops, truck repair shops, rental agencies, used car lots, and even shade tree mechanics can be sued for improper vehicle repairs, inspections, or customization.
The California Code of Regulations establishes some of the “accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike automotive repair…” If a problem in a vehicle causes injury, the fact that it may have been a mistake does not absolve the responsible party of liability. Additionally, the mechanic who physically performed the work is usually not the only party that bears responsibility. Other liable parties may include:
- The supervisor who signed off on the repair
- The manager of the repair shop
- The company that owns the repair shop
- The entity responsible for providing adequate training
- The entity that employs the mechanic
Mechanics are legally obligated to make proper repairs and warn of any dangers. If you believe that improper repair, inspection, or customization is grounds for filing a suit against a mechanic or shop, discovering who is responsible can be challenging without the help of an experienced auto repair negligence attorney. If you have any questions regarding your experience, do not hesitate to contact us for a no-cost consultation with our firm.
Compensation for Collisions Caused by Negligent Repairs, Inspections, and Customization
Financial compensation for collisions caused by faulty vehicle repairs vary widely and can depend on showing that the responsible party is more likely than not “at fault” for the damages or injuries caused by the repair, inspection, or customization. In California, there is no limit on the amount of damages that the trier of fact can compensate a victim for the injuries suffered as a result of a faulty repair.
Damages for Personal Injuries
Damages for personal injuries are usually categorized in two ways: compensatory and punitive.
Compensatory damages attempt to balance the amount of harm with the amount of money and provide the victim with the financial compensation to ease some of the worries caused by his or her injuries. This includes compensation for past and future medical care, past and future wages (also known as economic damages), and pain, suffering, anxiety, depression, inconvenience, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Punitive damages are to punish the wrongdoer for the harm inflicted on the victim and deter the wrongdoer from engaging in that conduct again.
Dealership Fails to Use Torque Wrench – Regueiro v. Honda Dealership
A Honda dealership took a 2007 Scion TC on a trade-in from a customer. Before reselling the Scion, the Honda dealership performed a 45-point safety inspection to ensure that all of the essential safety items, such as the brakes, the tires, and the suspension, were in accordance with Toyota’s specifications. A newly hired technician performed the safety inspection and found the brake rotors were not within the required specification. The technician thus replaced the brake rotors. Unfortunately, the technician, who had not received the proper training, did not use a torque wrench, as required by the manufacturer, when retightening the bolts.
Thereafter, the dealership sold the Scion to our client Gladys Regueiro, representing to her that the Scion was a “Quality Pre-Owned Vehicle.” For the next months, Mrs. Regueiro drove the Scion without incident. Unbeknownst to her, the bolts which the technician had failed to properly torque were slowly coming out.
On a Sunday afternoon, as Mrs. Regueiro drove her Scion on Interstate 15 in Victorville, California, one of the two bolts which the Honda dealership 10,000 miles earlier had failed to properly torque fell out. As soon as the bolt fell out, the Scion’s brake system failed causing Mrs. Regueiro and the Scion to go out of control, travel across freeway lanes, hit a culvert, and then roll over multiple times. At the end of the roll sequence, Mrs. Regueiro sat trapped in her vehicle, bleeding from her head, and with multiple broken bones in her neck, back, pelvis, and leg.
We brought suit on behalf of Mrs. Regueiro against the Honda dealership which failed to give her a safe vehicle. The dealership denied all liability and claimed that Mrs. Regueiro fell asleep behind the wheel. It also claimed that since the California Highway Patrol had found no mechanical defects in Mrs. Regueiro’s vehicle, the bolt must have come out during the violent rollover crash.
Through the use of expert testimony, Armen was able to show that the bolt must have come out immediately before the crash since none of the threads in the hole were the bolt was supposed to be were stripped. After a lengthy trial, the jury found the Honda dealership to be 100% at fault for the collision and awarded Mrs. Regueiro a substantial amount of money.
Dealership Fails to Perform Recall Resulting in Triple Fatality Crash
The owner of an SUV took his vehicle to the local dealership to have the vehicle refinanced. The owner gave the keys to the salesperson and left since the salesperson informed the owner that the process would take over five hours to complete. Unbeknownst to the owner, and rather than simply refinance the vehicle, the salesperson handling the refinance decided that the dealership would also make a second profit on the transaction by surreptitiously buying back the SUV and then reselling the SUV back to the owner.
In order to make that happen, the dealership had to take the SUV into its vehicle inventory, mark up the price of the SUV, and sell the SUV back to the owner at a premium. However, because the dealership now took the SUV into its inventory (something it would not have done had the vehicle simply been refinanced) it became the reseller of the SUV and became obligated to check for and remedy any open recalls. Rather than check for any open recalls, the dealership instead sold the SUV back to the owner with an open safety recall on the tires.
Years later, the owner drove the SUV to Las Vegas for the Fourth of July Holiday. On the return trip back to Los Angeles, the recalled tire failed. As a result, the SUV rolled over multiple times and three of the seven occupants of the SUV were killed. The family approached our firm about the collision. Once we began to investigate the crash, we discovered that the dealership had not just refinanced the SUV (as the owner was led to believe), but also had taken the vehicle into its inventory during the transaction. Thus, the dealership became legally obligated to remedy any open recalls, including replacing the defective tires. The dealership had failed to do so and as a result became responsible for the crash.
Contact An Auto Repair Negligence Attorney Today
We offer a sound, team-oriented approach when handling personal injury cases that are the result of improper auto repair, inspection or modification. Not only can our attorneys aggressively advocate for you in settlement or trial, but they can also guide you through the entire process with compassion and empathy. We understand the difficult situation you are in and it’s our goal to help you recover the fair compensation you are owed.
With more than 40 years of combined experience, our Los Angeles auto repair lawyers are focused on recovering the maximum compensation on your behalf, whether through settlement or at trial. We understand that improper vehicle maintenance can cause immeasurable damage. We handle every aspect of your claim from start to finish so you can focus on getting the treatment you need.
Our firm offers exceptional talent, abundant resources, tireless dedication, and years of experience to give you the best chance of success in obtaining maximum compensation. Led by our award-winning attorneys, Garo Mardirossian and Armen Akaragian, we are prepared to provide you with aggressive representation and personalized legal guidance you need.
Talk to a Los Angeles auto repair negligence attorney about your case or contact our firm to schedule a no-cost consultation.
Admitted to practice in 2006, Armen has arbitrated, tried, and settled several cases which have resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements.
Sources cited in this article:
- “4 Tips for Suing an Auto Repair Shop in California Small Claims” – People Clerk
- “5 Times You Can Sue a Mechanic” – FindLaw
- “A Consumer’s Guide to Auto Repair” – Bureau of Automotive Repair
- “Auto Repair Basics” – Bureau of Automotive Repair
- “Business and Professions Code – Automotive Repair” – California Legislative Information
- “California Code of Regulations – Article 8. Accepted Trade Standards” – Westlaw
- “Safety Issues & Recalls” – NHTSA
- “Defective Car Repairs Lawyers: Car Lawyers Near Me” – LegalMatch
- “Economic Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits” – Justia
- “Home” – Bureau of Automotive Repair
- “Interstate 15” – California Highways
- “Interstate 605” – Wikipedia
- “Laws and Regulations” – Bureau of Automotive Repair
- “Types of Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits” – Justia
- “Victorville – Maps & Directions” – Victorville CA
- “What If the Auto Shop’s Negligent Repair Work Caused My Accident?” – Lawyers.com