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Failure to Train Techs Could Lead to Heavy Consequences

In the February issue of BodyShop Business, Editor Jason Stahl discusses a recent $22.8 million court verdict over a faulty tire repair that got him wondering if similar lawsuits are on the horizon for the collision repair industry.

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

"Failed to properly train its employees, and failed to follow industry standards…"

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This paragraph is the one that really stood out to me when I read about a $22.8 million court verdict over a faulty tire repair in our sister publication, Brake & Front End.

A San Diego jury awarded $14.5 million to the three children of a couple who were killed in a July 2006 accident caused by an improperly performed tire repair. In addition to the jury verdict, the estate received another $8.3 million settlement from other defendants.

The plaintiffs’ counsel showed that the dealer that performed the tire repair failed to take the tire out of service, failed to properly train its employees and failed to follow industry standards in repairing the tire.

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Turns out the technician had only repaired one tire prior to repairing this one, and he had no more training than a “down-and-dirty, verbal how-to.”

I don’t know about you, but this lack of training and failure to follow standards sounds awfully familiar to me. Isn’t that an increasing problem in the collision repair industry?

Of course, there never have been standards to follow. Standards were posted on I-CAR’s website in the early 1990s, but they were apparently ignored or at the very least hardly used. Late last year, the three main industry associations came together to endorse OEM repair procedures as the standard, but there is some debate even there. In a poll we conducted by BSB asking, “Is an OEM-specified repair procedure the only correct way to repair a car?” only 56 percent of respondents said yes. And we know there are some gaps in those OEM procedures.

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Standards are once again being discussed at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC), and the Repair Standards Advisory Committee recently completed a study to gather various members of the collision repair/auto claims community’s views on standards. But judging from the initial reaction to the study at the CIC held in early January this year, the industry still has a long, long way to go to come to an agreement on standards.

And training? Before anybody goes around accusing body shops of falling behind on training, I think the insurance industry has to take a long, hard look at the rates they’re paying for collision repair these days. Then again, is the fact that some shops can’t afford training really an excuse? Especially when you look at the consequences of not getting that training: the potential death of people. These rocket ships today are a far cry from the vehicles of yesterday. The bottom line is that those shops that have been in business for 30 years and want to be in business for another 30 years need to commit to training. And body shops need to start demanding to get paid properly for their services…but that’s a discussion for another day.

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I once posed this question to a famous accident reconstructionist who had been featured on ABC’s 20/20: “If there are so many improper collision repair jobs being done, resulting in people’s severe injury or death, why haven’t there been more lawsuits?” He answered that when a vehicle is in pieces and parts after a major accident, it’s hard to tell if a substandard repair job was the reason the vehicle structure didn’t respond as it should have in the collision.

Still, I’ve got to think that one day, someone’s going to figure out that the car was repaired at a body shop that did not follow the OEM’s recommended procedure, did not, for example, properly identify the advanced materials, and tried to repair something that should have been replaced.

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