Dallas attorney Todd Tracy just landed a $42 million verdict against John Eagle Collision Center for a negligent repair. Now he wants to protect the rest of the auto body industry from a similar fate.
“My whole goal here is to immunize you guys from liability,” Tracy told a large crowd of collision repairers during a Nov. 1 SEMA Show presentation, organized by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists.
Tracy, who represented Matthew and Marcia Seebachan in the now-infamous John Eagle case, said he would like to see legislation that protects body shops if they comply with OEM repair specifications. In the meantime, he offered 11 bullet points to help shops avoid their own multimillion-dollar negligence verdict:
- Always follow OEM repair specifications.
- Always follow I-CAR recommendations.
- Never forget who your customer is. “Your customers are the lifeblood of your business,” Tracy added. “When they entrust you with their vehicle repairs, they’re putting their lives – and the lives of their loved ones – in your hands. Don’t let them down.”
- If there are no OEM repair specifications, research how to make the repairs, keep records and keep your customers informed. “You gotta learn to CYA,” Tracy added. “You gotta learn to build a file.”
- Never over-promise what you can deliver. “If you have a website, make it vague, make it ambiguous,” Tracy said. “Say, ‘Our objective is to deliver the safest vehicle we possibly can.’”
- “If your shop makes repairs, report the repairs to somebody for the love of God, and then keep a record of it.” You can’t control what CARFAX is doing, “but you can at least say, ‘Hey, I tried my best, I reported it. I told the customer about it.’”
- Never put profits over your customers’ safety.
- Never admit you’re letting insurance companies dictate how you repair vehicles.
- Tell your customer in writing what the insurance is recommending, and that you recommend against it because the vehicle will not be as safe in a subsequent accident and that their family – or a future owner of the vehicle – can be seriously injured or killed. Then have your customer sign off on your shop performing the insurance company’s repair so you can CYA. However, Tracy added: “I don’t think any of you would take this route, or you wouldn’t be here.”
- Be a hero and stand up to the insurance companies. Tell them and your customer in writing that the insurance company’s approved repairs violate OEM repair specifications and will cause serious injury or death to your customer or any future owner of the vehicle if an accident occurs in the future, and that you will not repair the vehicle knowing that you are placing someone’s life at risk.
- Be a hero and stand up to the insurance companies and tell them and your customer in writing that the insurance company’s approved repairs violate OEM repair specifications and will cause serious injury or death to your customer or any future owner of the vehicle if an accident occurs in the future, and that you will perform the work required by the OEM, take what the insurance company pays and then sue the insurance company for the difference.
Tracy admitted that standing up to insurers won’t be easy, and shops might lose some business along the way. But the John Eagle lawsuit has galvanized collision repairers across the nation, he said, creating a “groundswell” of support for changes to what many believe is a broken system.
“This is a defining moment in your industry,” Tracy said. “You’ve had a verdict that can change the industry. It’s up to you guys, but I will tell you I’ll help you along the way. If you want to be a hero and take on the insurance companies that have stiffed you, you give me a call.”