Most people rely on auto shops to keep their vehicle in proper working condition and to (however indirectly) help keep them safe. If your vehicle has been negligently repaired or maintained, the auto shop may be held liable for damages, even in some situations where sub-standard work or defective parts contribute to a car accident. Of course, it's not always easy to establish liability in these kinds of cases. Read on for the details.
Legal Duty of Auto Repair Shops
Auto repair shops and the mechanics that work for them are tasked with keeping vehicles in safe, working order in accordance with current professional standards. Licensed mechanics make a living by properly diagnosing and correctly repairing vehicles, such that any observable danger that could cause an accident or injury is remedied, and all work done on a vehicle must be in line with accepted practices in the field.
Note that some auto repair shops may attempt to absolve themselves of liability by posting a disclaimer saying that the shop is not responsible for any vehicle damage or accident stemming from repairs. However, these disclaimers are not typically binding, and cannot usually be relied upon to relieve the auto shop of liability resulting from negligent repairs.
Of course, there's liability for negligent repairs, and there's liability for a car accident that was allegedly caused by that negligent work, and they're not the same thing. More on this distinction later.
Types of Negligent Repair Work
When an auto repair shop fails to complete repairs to your vehicle up to industry standards, this can constitute negligent repair work. Sub-standard repair and maintenance can lead to additional vehicle damage and can render a vehicle unsafe to operate. Common types of negligent repair work include:
- failing to complete necessary repairs
- ordering or installing the incorrect replacement part
- damaging other parts of the vehicle in the course of the repair work
- performing wrong or unnecessary procedures or repairs
- failing to identify repairs that need to be done
- permitting unqualified or untrained mechanics to conduct repair work
- modifying vehicle parts illegally
- leaving debris or other foreign objects in the vehicle
Repair Shop Liability
If you believe the auto shop is liable for shoddy repair work, then you will probably have to establish the shop's negligence. As with any negligence action, you will have to show:
- that the auto shop owed you a duty of care under the circumstances (this is usually a given based on the customer-repair shop relationship)
- that the auto shop/mechanic fell short of meeting that duty (they acted negligently or carelessly in connection with the servicing of your vehicle), and
- you suffered some damage or other loss as a result of that negligence.
As an example, let’s assume you took your car to have the brakes checked after an indicator light appeared on your dashboard. The auto shop mechanic properly diagnoses the problem and determines that you need new brake pads, but inadvertently installs the incorrect brake pads for your vehicle. On your way home from the auto shop, you try to stop for a red light, but your brakes don’t work. Your vehicle continues into the intersection and strikes another vehicle. You suffer a broken collarbone as a result of the collision. In this example, the auto shop could be responsible for your damages based on the negligent installation of the incorrect brake pads.
Making Your Case
Proving that an auto shop or mechanic is liable for your injuries or other damages can be complicated. The repair shop is almost always going to argue that repairs were done properly, and that any problem with the vehicle was new and/or unrelated to the work done. Even if you think you can link a bad repair job to an accident, you can count on the shop arguing that the accident wasn't a foreseeable consequence of the mechanic's mistake. (Learn more about foreseeability and personal injury law.)
An experienced car accident attorney can conduct a thorough investigation, hire expert witnesses and accident reconstructionists, and work tirelessly to help you prove negligence on the part of the auto shop or mechanic. If you are successful in proving your case, you may be entitled to both economic and non-economic damages stemming from the accident.