I’m repairing a late-model pickup that was struck in the rear by another vehicle, and the receiver for the truck’s trailer hitch shows it was impacted. Other than some scratches in the receiver’s finish, I don’t see any apparent damages. Should it be replaced, or should we just apply a bit of touch-up?
Great question, and my response will apply to many similar situations repairers often face when the potential for liabilities and accountability arise.
As repair professionals, you and others across the country have a professional duty and an immense amount of responsibility when serving your customers in the proper and thorough repair of their damaged vehicles. Anything less, and you fail to properly represent the best interests of your customers and open the door for potential liabilities which could come back to haunt you and your business down the road.
At the same time, we all have an obligation to mitigate costs to keep repair cost as reasonable as possible while safeguarding the vehicle owner and their family’s personal safety and economic well-being. Ultimately, it’s the repair professional who must make the decision in regard to what will be required in all facets for a proper and thorough repair.
When a question to repair or replace arises, especially one where distinct liability concerns exist, I firmly believe that if one is to err, they should err on the side of caution. The litmus test here is, if you believe a potential liability issue exists, shift it to others (i.e. the vehicle owner) to make the final decision of which viable option they prefer. In this instance, the choices seem logical and simple:
- Have the part checked/tested (i.e. liquid penetrant inspection or magnafluxed) by a third-party expert, or
- Replace the part with a new replacement part (salvaged/used may pose other potential liabilities)
When it comes to repairing or replacing a part or component that may or may not be damaged and may or may not pose potential liabilities, the final decision to undertake the customer’s chosen path of repair rests with the repair professional. As such, the repairer’s decision becomes one that both must live with thereafter. In this sense, a safe decision is better than a potentially wrong one. As the old adage says, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
One can only imagine what the fallout might be if a customer’s trailer hitch failed while traveling down a busy highway and the trailer they were towing skidded into oncoming lanes of traffic. The result might be catastrophic property damages, injuries and possibly loss of life!
In the aftermath, an in-depth investigation would surely take place as to determine the cause of the loss, and it would no doubt be the failure of the receiver hitch. The next questions the attorneys would ask would be: who, what, when and why.
After having the failed part inspected by experts to determine the root cause of the failure, a savvy attorney will name all parties, including the receiver hitch’s manufacturer, distributor, those who originally procured and installed it (vehicle manufacturer, dealer, etc.), and of course those involved in the recent repair. Considering that the manufacturer, distributor and installer are likely large corporations with significant limits of liability and Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance coverage, they’ll mount their own defenses and investigations in an effort to shift any and all liabilities away from themselves and onto others. Care to guess who they’ll all be pointing to? If you said the repair professional who the customer chose to represent their best interest in the repair of their damaged vehicle and their safety – and who elected to reuse the “questionable” hitch assembly – you would be right…dead right!
The question then becomes, how does a repairer safeguard themselves from such unnecessary and avoidable liabilities?
The answer is truly simple and covered in the following steps:
- Prepare your repair estimate/blueprint in a manner that addresses and covers potential issues. Write it right, repair it right and charge for it right! If in doubt, write to replace it.
- Present your repair estimate/blueprint to your “customer” (the vehicle owner), ask for their direction in the repair of their vehicle, and properly and thoroughly document their decision and what it was based upon (lack of concern, finances, insurer refusal, etc.)
- If an insurer is involved in the claim, provide the insurer a copy of your repair estimate/blueprint on behalf of your customer. Should the insurer elect to deny proper inspection or replacement, suggest that the customer attain the insurer’s reasoning for their denial in writing and continue to seek direction for the repair from the customer.
- If the customer declines to replace the part in its entirety with a new (unused) replacement part, be sure to have them provide to you their decision in writing to keep in your customer’s file.
- In the event the customer declines to have the questionable part replaced and the part is removed for the repair, depending upon the damages and your assessment of the risks, you may elect to not re-install it and instead allow the customer to take the damaged part, its mounting fasteners and hardware with them to have installed elsewhere in order to avoid potential liabilities for you and your company.
Note: When potential liabilities arise and the repairer elects to proceed at the customer’s election, ADE encourages its coaching/consulting clients to have their customers sign a liability waiver and/or a hold harmless agreement before proceeding with that portion of the repair. Sample documents are available to active ADE coaching/consulting clients. Note: It’s encouraged that repairers have legal counsel involved when developing and/or approving such forms.
The bottom line is this: repairers have enough associated risks when repairing damaged vehicles, and there’s no good reason to take on unnecessary liabilities when you can provide a proper solution which will not only restore your customer’s vehicle, but also their peace of mind…as well as your own!
When the situation arises, it’s wise to shift all potential liabilities away from your company and place them onto your customer to make the final decision. After all, it’s their vehicle, and it’s their and their family’s personal safety and economic value at stake. They can then use the information you provide to place the liability onto others if necessary to obtain a proper and thorough repair. DRP shops can do this by submitting your recommendations to the insurer and requesting any denials be placed in writing to maintain in your customer’s file.
As a repair professional, your responsibility is to provide your professional and expert opinion (based upon your training, experience and collective knowledge) to enable your customer to make a sound decision.
Once a decision is made and direction is given by your customer, you as a business owner then have to determine if their wishes are viable as it pertains to you and your business. It is you, then, who has the option to do as they desire…or not. Just document your work file thoroughly as to the basis for your decision.
Potential liabilities can be very costly…or extremely lucrative. If you doubt this, look to the business of insurance.