This is the first public trial that Paint & Panel is aware of where the finger of blame has been pointed at the repairer for not following OE repair procedures. I don’t usually write articles filled with my own opinion but this story has the potential to significantly shift attitudes and possibly procedures in our industry – it is without doubt a landmark case.
I’m writing my opinion because I want to hear yours – please comment on this story using Disqus or send me an email at SamStreet@yaffa.com.au
I’m speculating here. Statistically, we know there must be hundreds if not thousands of cars driving around Australia (heaven knows how many around the globe) that, for one reason or another, haven’t been repaired to manufacturer’s specifications. These vehicles may be involved in an accident where repairer fault could be attributed if injuries occur because the vehicle’s safety features didn’t perform as they should.
Speculating again, it’s probable that this has happened many times already but that the accident didn’t result in severe enough injuries and an obvious enough repair error to set off investigation or litigation. And if it did, then it’s likely that it was settled out of court.
It sounds as though the lawyer who prosecuted this case, Todd Tracey, is just beginning to sink his teeth into this issue. And while one of my best friends is a lawyer, and I would never suggest he was a shark, we know that when the ambulance-chasing, no-win, no fee types smell blood, they begin to circle with advertising banners instead of fins above the waterline.
Though virtually all of his prior work had involved suing OEMs for product defects which allegedly intensify the severity of a collision, Todd Tracy is reported to have said that the John Eagle collision case had opened his eyes to the collision repair industry.
“I am concerned that this is an epidemic,” he said.
Tracy and the Seebachans are suing the dealership who sold them the car without disclosing the repair on the roof, for more than $1 million, accusing it of negligence. A trial is scheduled for September.
Originally, Tracy looked at the case as a possible lawsuit against Honda, only to realise what the shop had allegedly done. In the past, Tracy said he rejected cases where the damage was too great to indicate whether there was an OEM defect. But now, he said he wondered how many of those cases had a poor collision repair as a contributing factor. “Nothing is getting past us (in the future),” he said.
The Law firm describes itself as building a reputation as a “heel biting” safety watchdog over auto manufacturers. ‘The effect of Todd Tracy's safety research and lawsuits has been to force auto manufacturers and the federal government to require safer cars and trucks as well as to order recalls. The Tracy Firm’s headquarters in Dallas, Texas houses a state of the art "Crash Lab" where we examine how safety systems failed to protect all occupants from serious or deadly injury during an auto accident.' states the Todd Tracy webiste. 'It’s critically important to a case for our auto safety experts and engineers to examine the wreck as soon as possible after a car crash. If you sign a release for the insurance company to settle your claim and dispose of the vehicle, you will lose vital evidence needed for a lawsuit. It makes it nearly impossible for us to represent you.’
While I don’t know of any legal eagles in Australia specialising in quite the same way, who’s to say that one won’t read about this case and think that this is the direction their law firm should take?
Gospel according to State Farm
What’s interesting is the attitude of the insurance company involved. When asked about OEM repair procedures, State Farm claims director Russ Hoffbauer said, "We don't consider them Gospel." One has to wonder whether this case will be a biblical ‘road to Damascus’ revelation to other insurance companies that feel the same way about OE procedures?
So in conclusion, dear repairer readers, remember you are responsible for your own repairs – and if you don’t follow OE repair methods because a work provider suggests otherwise, or you simply think you know better like John Eagle who apparently stated that gluing was better than welding, then make sure your public liability insurance policy is healthy and up to date and would protect you in the case of a law suit. Just remember who got the $31.5 million fine.