Negligent Vehicle Repair at Issue in Personal Injury Lawsuit

It is expected by those who own or drive motor vehicles that they will occasionally require maintenance and service. But if a vehicle is not serviced or repaired correctly, it could result in serious safety hazards. mechanic1

Unfortunately, not every repair shop or mechanic exercise the care they should. A seemingly small oversight in vehicle repair or service can have devastating consequences. Some examples include:

  • Leaking fluids;
  • Brake failure;
  • Loss of control.

Those affected by negligent auto repair and maintenance may have grounds to proceed with claims for compensation against the repair shop. 

But plaintiffs must be prepared to present evidence that will prove not just that they suffered injury as a result of a repair, but that the mechanic/ auto repair shop/ service station did not perform the work according to a reasonable standard of care. That usually will include:

  • Making repairs in a professional, skilled and careful manner;
  • Using the expected skills and knowledge of a trained mechanic;
  • Proper inspection/ testing of the vehicle to ensure it safe for use;
  • Avoiding unnecessary repairs.

In the recent case of Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. Burden, plaintiff was nearly killed by an alleged vehicle defect that caused his truck to burst into flames. But this only occurred after more than a year after plaintiff bought the vehicle and after numerous trips to two different repair shops.

He reportedly bought the pickup truck from defendant in September 2009. Soon after the purchase, he started to notice a distinct, smoke-like smell that would fill the cabin intermittently. Sometimes it was stronger than others, but it usually dissipated between 10 seconds and 10 minutes. It occurred more than 100 times by the time he brought it into defendant service shop to have an oil change. He alerted the mechanics to the issue, but they didn’t find anything wrong.

Later that day, when he was making a longer trip, the smell started again and he stopped into another repair shop. They couldn’t find anything either.

Twice more plaintiff brought the vehicle in for service at defendant dealership’s service center and twice more, they said they could find nothing. It was suggested he come directly to the dealership when the smell was occurring. He did that a few weeks later – but the service department didn’t have time to look at it right then and didn’t have a “loaner” vehicle to give him to get to work in the meantime. They did not inspect the vehicle before plaintiff had to leave for work.

After his night shift was over, he got into the truck and started driving home. The burning smell was back. It started to get worse. The inside of the cabin grew hot. The horn started honking on its own. The hazard lights started blinking. He realized he’d lost power steering – and then also the brakes. He began to panic as smoke filled the cabin. He tried to open the doors but they would not budge.

With his vehicle moving at approximately 35 mph, he was able to put move the transition into park and the vehicle began to slow. The door locks opened. He was able to jump out onto the road. Stunned, he called 911. By the time firefighters arrived, the vehicle was engulfed in flames.

Plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against manufacturer and both repair shops.

Ultimately, plaintiff settled with manufacturer and the repair shop he visited once for $52,000. But the case against the dealership/ repair shop pressed on. He prevailed at trial, with jurors awarding him $132,000.

However, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the trial court should have entered a judgment as a matter of law in favor of defense before jurors began deliberations. That’s because plaintiff had presented no evidence whatsoever to show:

  • The cause of the truck fire (his expert witness testimony as to this element had been stricken);
  • What the standard of care was for mechanics and how defendant breached those standards.

Absent these elements, the court ruled, the case should have been decided in favor of defense.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Jim Bishop Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. Burden, May 6, 2016, Alabama Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Finerty v. Abex Corp. – Derivative Liability in Mesothelioma Lawsuit, May 10, 2016, Greenville Injury Lawyer Blog

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