Published on October 7th 2017 in

Texas body shop owes $31.5M for incorrect repair tied to fiery crash

A Texas jury found John Eagle Collision Centre’s incorrect repair liable for much of the severity of the crash of a 2010 Honda Fit and awarded the couple injured and trapped inside the burning vehicle $31.5 million in damages. The Seebachans were travelling in the Fit on a 75 mph stretch of road in 2013 when a Toyota Tundra in the other lane hydroplaned into their path, leading to the Fit striking the right front quarter of the Tundra in a T-bone collision. Two of the Tundra’s occupants were uninjured, while the other was merely bruised.

The Seebachans were seriously injured and trapped inside the burning Fit, which they had purchased without knowledge of the previous repair. Experts for the plaintiffs said in court documents that the severity of the crash and the Seebachans’ injuries were the result of the body shop adhesive-bonding the Fit’s roof during a $8,500 hail repair in 2012 for the prior owner, a State Farm policyholder.

The Dallas-based body shop was found responsible for 75 percent of the couple’s ordeal as the $42 million verdict the jury handed down. The Dallas County jury attributed the other 25 percent of the blame to the other driver, according to notes taken by Tracy Law Firm spokesman Robert Riggs breaking down the verdict. “I didn’t think that they were going to award the plaintiffs that amount of money,” said Auto Body Association of Texas Executive Director Jill Tuggle, who watched closing arguments and was present for the verdict. “I thought that the defence made a pretty good case for planting some seed of doubt.” However, Todd Tracy, who represented plaintiffs Matthew and Marcia Seebachan, said. “I think it was vindication for them,” Tracy said of his clients’ reaction to the verdict. He said they had always wondered why their Fit’s roof behaved as it had in the collision.

Honda OEM repair procedures demand a shop tack-weld the front and rear corner edges of the new roof and then perform a combination of two- and three-plate spot welds and MIG plug welds. “It can be seen that no welds are present,” wrote plaintiff’s expert Neil Hannemann, who inspected the Fit. “The (Z-)buckling of the cant rail is due to the lack of welding of the roof panel, which was designed to be welded on and acting as a shear panel for sharing crash loads. The Seebachan’s would likely have had only minor injuries if not for the faulty repair,” Hannemann wrote. “One must remember that a vehicle’s safety systems are like links in a chain. Each system must work together to ensure the other safety systems perform as designed. When the faulty structural repairs were made, the crashworthiness systems were all compromised.”

The defence had argued the substitution of the panel bonding agent was equally acceptable and the shop actually was ahead of Honda’s own engineers in making that determination. The 2010 Honda Fit has a “poor” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 40 mph small-overlap crash test rating but a “good” 40 mph moderate-overlap crash-test rating. “The 2010 Honda Fit was originally designed to provide structural and fuel system crashworthiness protection, which would prevent serious injuries to occupants in this foreseeable accident,” wrote Hannemann, an engineer who has worked on the Ford GT and Mercedes SLR. “In fact, the 2010 Honda Fit receives the highest rating from the IIHS for the moderate offset impact test, which is virtually identical in terms of crash forces to the subject accident.”

The jury thought OEM procedures were “absolutely paramount,” particularly given the shop’s recognition by I-CAR, which demands shops follow OEM procedures, according to Tracy. “They found that that was absolutely critical,” Tracy said. The affiliation of John Eagle Collision with an OEM dealership also was “a huge deal” to the jury in showing the shop should have known better. Tracy felt the case showed any shop representing itself as certified would have to follow OEM procedures or in advance tell the customer it was going to repair the car incorrectly and secure permission to do so.

Tuggle, who was present when the plaintiffs interviewed the jury in the hallway after the trial, said jurors felt an OEM “recommended procedure” still meant the shop must fix the vehicle that way or “they assume full liability. I don’t think the jury realized how big of a statement that was,” she said. Collision repair trade groups and I-CAR have all repeatedly stressed that OEM repair procedures are the standard — but still face resistance from insurers and other shops who treat them as merely suggestions. “It’s interesting that there’s so much interpretation” in the collision repair field, Tuggle said, but “in the eyes of a consumer,” OEM recommendations are indeed – requirements. “We’ve got to take the word “recommendation” more seriously,” Tuggle said.

This article courtesy of John Huetter of Repairer Driven Education (RDE). Check out their website at; http://www.repairerdrivennews.com/ for this and many other informative and educational article on the collision repair industry.

Industry Partners

Address