The controversial court case over the Honda Fit with a glued instead of welded roof has resulted in a $31.5 million fine for repairer John Eagle Collision Repair Center, who was found to be 75% liable .
The lawsuit has gained international media attention after it emerged that John Eagle Collision Center (Dallas) had used 3M 8115 adhesive on the roof of a 2010 Honda Fit instead of the 104 Honda-mandated spot welds when replacing a hail-damaged steel roof on the vehicle. The safety cage subsequenly collapsed because the roof separated in a collision. The accident left Matthew and Marcia Seebachan trapped in the crushed, burning 2010 Honda Fit. Matthew was trapped and conscious while his body burned and spent months in hospital.
Now that John Eagle has been assigned 75 percent liability in the case (the other driver was assigned 25%), Erica Eversman, a collision repair attorney for Vehicle Information Services, says that the verdict could become a watershed moment that will affect collision-insurer relationships and increase public awareness of OEM procedures. It has the potential to lead to a class action lawsuit, she said.
The Seebachans' attorney Todd Tracy indicated they may revive another lawsuit against State Farm, which allegedly had influence over John Eagle not following OEM specifications.
"State Farm secretly and covertly plays Russian Roulette with its customers and the public by forcing body shops to choose their profits over the safety of the motoring public," Tracy said.
Tracy’s campaign highlighting the insurance industry’s influence over collision repairs which includes a series of YouTube videos about the crash (see below) has resulted in Texas Watch, a citizen advocacy organisation dedicated to ensuring insurance companies are held accountable, requesting the Texas Department of Insurance to investigate the insurance industry’s “corner cutting” of automobile repairs.
Tori Sommerman, deputy director of Texas Watch said the organisation never felt compelled to involve itself in the insurer-collision relationship until this lawsuit.
“We believe body shops should be making safe repairs,” she said. “We also believe, then, insurance companies should prioritize policyholder’s safety.”
The bodyshop director for John Eagle Collision Center admitted, under oath, on July 7, 2017, that John Eagle deliberately violated Honda's 2009-2013 Honda Fit Body Repair Manual when it glued the new steel roof on to the 2010 Honda. Honda's official repair manual for dealers specifies that a new roof must be welded onto a 2009-2013 Honda Fit when the roof is replaced. According to his testimony the collision center's profits trump safety, "State Farm dictated to John Eagle how the car was to be repaired, i.e., to use adhesive rather than spot welding. Furthermore, State Farm can 'trump' the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specifications because the repair facility needs to get paid."
Tracy stressed that, "State Farm sells auto insurance. They are not in the business of designing vehicles, or testing vehicles, or repairing vehicles. And their adjusters are certainly not professional automotive engineers with an expertise in designing vehicles that provide crashworthiness protection to prevent serious injuries. No insurance company should ever dictate to a collision center how to repair a vehicle. Such coercion jeopardises public safety on the nation's highways."
The Society of Collision Repair Specialists reported that representatives of State Farm and Allstate at the Collision Industry Conference for collision repair industry executives failed to support the idea that OEM instructions are always the standard of care—a position endorsed by all major collision repair trade groups, I-CAR, and even CIC's own definition of a collision repairer.
According to the report, Clint Marlow, director at Allstate stated: "I think there's a lot of … mechanical acumen in our industry, and while most of us are not mechanical engineers by trade, I believe that we are educated enough to form an opinion."
When asked about OEM repair procedures, State Farm claims director Russ Hoffbauer said, "We don't consider them Gospel."
The federal lawsuit also accuses State Farm of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA).