When you leave your vehicle with a mechanic for repairs, you are entering into a contractual relationship between you and the mechanic. Specifically, leaving your vehicle with a mechanic creates a bailment relationship. A bailment occurs when someone temporarily transfers their property to another person, for a limited time and a specified purpose. Ownership of the property is not transferred.
While your vehicle is in the shop’s possession, the mechanic is required to treat your vehicle with reasonable care. If the mechanic violates the terms of your agreement, they are then liable for any damages. Additionally, most states have consumer protection laws. These are government regulations that protect consumers from fraud or abuse.
In general, a mechanic will be liable for:
- False, misleading, or missing estimates. For example, if a mechanic guarantees you one rate, and drastically exceeds it;
- Failure to totally disclose exactly what work was performed on the vehicle. Thus, it is important that you receive paperwork proving the work that was performed on your vehicle;
- Breach of warranty: If a mechanic promises or makes a guarantee that a repair on a vehicle will last for a certain time, and it does not, the mechanic will be responsible to make repairs. Failure to make repairs may result in a breach of warranty claim;
- Failure to perform the requested work in a reasonable manner;
- Products liability, such as the sale of defective or dangerous parts. One major products liability issue in automobile maintenance is the sale of used tires that have been improperly plugged or patched. Sales of such tires may leave an automobile mechanic open to personal injury claims, should an incident occur due to the defective tires;
- Performing unauthorized or unnecessary work; or
- Any other damage that may occur while the vehicle is in the mechanic’s possession.
If the mechanic intentionally defrauds customers, or steals the customer’s property, the mechanic could face criminal charges. Many repair shops will include disclaimers, or a statement that limits the scope of obligations, in an attempt to limit their liability for lost or stolen property. Sometimes, these are enforceable; however, an auto repair shop cannot utilize a disclaimer in order to limit their own liability or intentional torts.
For example, if an automobile mechanic takes your vehicle for a joy ride, then they will be liable for any damage done to your vehicle and likely liable to reimburse you for the cost of driving the vehicle, regardless of any waiver or disclaimer you may have signed.
If the damages were caused by the mechanic’s negligent actions, the mechanic is held liable. Another example of this is if the mechanic rotates tires, but does not properly reattach the necessary parts. If that negligence leads to injuries or property damage, the mechanic is held liable. An exception to this includes contributory or comparative negligence, as well as assumption of risk.
Thus, if the mechanic were to advise you that they needed more time to properly repair your vehicle, but you do not heed their advice and take the vehicle on a long road trip, which results in damage caused by the disclosed issues, the mechanic may not be financially responsible.
The mechanic is legally required to take reasonable care to protect your vehicle while it is in their possession. The mechanic may be held liable for the theft of your vehicle if they left the keys in the unlocked car. However, if the mechanic and the shop took all reasonable steps in order to ensure the safety of your vehicle, they will not be held liable for your loss. Some repair shops will have insurance coverage that could help cover some of your losses.
In the event the contents of the vehicle have been stolen, law enforcement will need to be contacted in order to investigate the theft, as well as potentially recover your losses. Further, the ensuing police report is valuable evidence during civil lawsuits. This is because the report documents any losses, as well as the circumstances surrounding it.
Every state has different laws regarding whether the stolen items were attached to your vehicle. This distinction is important in civil claims. In most states, there are garage keeper liability laws that will protect your vehicle as well as items connected to your vehicle. Items connected to your vehicle include car stereos, tires, and catalytic converters.
The repair shop will generally be liable for the loss of anything attached to your vehicle. There are limits to these protections, such as the personal property stored in your vehicle. Items such as laptops and sunglasses are not typically covered by garage keeper liability laws.
As can be seen, when your car is left with a mechanic, the mechanic is held liable for a certain standard of care. Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you believe that an automobile mechanic has violated your rights or harmed your property, it may be in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced consumer protection lawyer.
Due to the complexity of the legal issues surrounding automobile mechanic liability — including bailments, garage keeper laws, personal injury claims, negligence, and products liability — consulting with an experienced consumer protection lawyer is crucial to ensuring you make a full recovery. An experienced attorney can help you identify and filed the correct legal claims in order to ensure your maximum recovery.