Automobile dealer repairs are repairs made by the dealer who sold the vehicle in need of repairs. Dealerships frequently provide car repair services, as they are intended to satisfy customer warranties for customers who have purchased a motor vehicle at that specific dealership. Rather than have necessary repairs and routine maintenance conducted by an outside mechanic, the vehicle’s owner has the option to bring the vehicle back to the dealership to be repaired.
Generally speaking, the mechanics employed by automobile dealerships are actually employed by the company that manufactures the vehicles. However, the dealership may also contract out to a different mechanic or repair company. This is especially true if the repairs require special parts or protocol.
Many automobile dealer repairs are a result of a defective motor vehicle. Motor vehicle defects refer to any faults in a motor vehicle resulting from the actions of the manufacturer. In terms of a lawsuit or a car defects recall, a motor vehicle defect generally refers only to flaws that create safety hazards, or result in the injury of the operator or passengers. According to this definition, aesthetic flaws such as a botched paint job or a misplaced decal are not generally eligible for a vehicle defects claim.
Can I Hold a Dealer Liable for Faulty Repairs?
Before discussing suing a car dealership for negligence, it is helpful to discuss product liability. A products liability claim involves a manufacturer or seller of a product being held accountable for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce. Any party that is responsible for any part of the manufacture of the product could be held liable, just as any seller may be held liable.
Vehicles are a prime example. They are often produced by numerous manufacturers:
- One manufacturer creates the tires;
- Another manufacturer creates the engine;
- Another manufacturer creates the stereo system; and
- Yet another manufacturer creates the gas tank, and so on.
All of the individual pieces of the vehicle are brought together and assembled. From there, the vehicle will likely go on to a retailer or dealer. Because dozens of parties may be involved, if the vehicle turns out to be defective, there are a number of different parties that may be held liable for any injuries caused. This can include, but may not be limited to:
- The assembling manufacturer;
- The wholesaler;
- The dealer; and
- The manufacturer of the piece that was found to be defective.
Such claims would be based on the legal theory of negligence. As previously mentioned, negligence is the specific legal theory which allows injured people to recover for the carelessness of others. A person is considered to be negligent if they were careless, given the circumstances of the situation.
When suing someone for negligence, such as a car dealership, you will need to prove all of the following four elements:
- Duty: Duty refers to the responsibility one person owes to another. Generally speaking, people going about their daily business owe a duty of reasonable care to each other. Reasonable care is the amount of care any ordinary and prudent person would use in the same situation. An example of this would be how if a person is driving in the rain, they would be exercising reasonable care by driving under the speed limit. Alternatively, a person would not be exercising reasonable care if they were driving forty miles per hour over the speed limit in the same conditions;
- Breach: A breach of duty occurs when a person’s care falls below the level required by their specific duty. To expand upon the previous example, the person driving over the speed limit would have breached their duty of reasonable care;
- Causation: Simply put, the breach of duty must have been the actual cause of injury. The legal test for causation is essentially ‘but for’ one person’s actions (or inaction), the injury would not have occurred; and
- Damages: Generally speaking, there must be some sort of tangible harm that occurred. The specific type of injury that may satisfy this element vary, but generally include such injuries as property damage, physical harm, and lost wages.
What Are Some Examples of Faulty Automobile Dealer Repairs?
In general terms, there are three types of defects that could result in liability to one or all of the parties involved in the manufacture and sale of the product.
- Design Defects: Design defects are defects in the design of the product. No matter how well the product is manufactured and how thoroughly a consumer is warned about the product, if the design itself is defective, it is considered to be inherently flawed. This could lead to potential liability;
- Manufacturing Defects: A manufacturing defect occurs when the product’s design is perfect and completely safe, but the manufacturer puts the product together in such a way that the product is considered to be unsafe; and
- Defective Warnings: Some products can lead to a products liability suit if the product contains an inadequate warning. Defective warning products liability cases can also include failure to properly instruct a consumer on how to use the product. While some products seem self-explanatory, the law has determined that failure to warn consumers of the potential dangers of a product may result in liability.
In terms of specific examples of faulty repairs, the following are some of the most common:
- Brake and/or gas pedal defects;
- Safety equipment defects;
- Fuel, exhaust, and/or cooling system flaws;
- Misaligned steering mechanisms;
- Structural problems associated with the frame, body, transmission, and/or engine assembly; and
- Electrical and computer problems, specifically defective keyless fobs.
When Is a Faulty Automobile Dealer Repair Not Liable?
There are three instances in which a products liability case may be brought against an automobile dealer for faulty repairs. These include negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty of fitness. Each of these generally differ according to which state’s law is applicable. As there is no federal products liability law, each state creates its own laws and regulations relevant to products liability.
Strict liability cases are especially relevant for a seller, such as an auto dealer. This is because a seller may be considered liable for the defect simply because the product was defective regardless of any other action on the part of the seller.
Essentially, the injured consumer must prove that:
- They were injured;
- They were injured by the product; and
- The product was sold by the seller.
As the seller of goods such as vehicles, it is imperative to familiarize yourself with product liability in order to mitigate any potential problems. One way to avoid liability is to show that the usefulness of the product outweighs the inherent risks of harm when using the product. An example of when this defense would not work would be a product such as a trampoline. The “usefulness” of the product does not outweigh the risk of injury.
Another potential method to avoid liability is to prove that a reasonable consumer would not find the product defective, when they were operating the product in a reasonable manner. If a consumer takes a product and uses it in such a way that is inconsistent with the purpose or intended use of the product, they may not be able to recover from the seller for products liability.
Some examples of commonly used defenses against a products liability claim include:
- Unforeseeable Usage: The plaintiff has misused the product in such a way that it is considered to be unforeseeable, to both the manufacturer and to the average consumer;
- Assumption of Risk: The plaintiff knew of and voluntarily accepted the risks associated with the product, but chose to use it regardless;
- Substantial Changes: The plaintiff has substantially altered a product, and that alteration is what led to their injuries;
- Comparative Fault: Comparative fault asserts that the plaintiff is more at fault than the defendant for causing their injuries; and/or
- Contributory Negligence: Contributory negligence asserts that if a defendant proves contributory negligence, meaning that the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries, the plaintiff can be completely barred from recovering.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you are experiencing issues related to faulty automobile dealer repair, you should consult with an experienced local consumer lawyer. Because much of the law around this issue varies at the state level, an area attorney would be best suited to helping you understand your legal options. Hiring an experienced local consumer lawyer to sue a car dealership can help you ensure that you recover a proper damages award.