To Dallas lawyer Todd Tracy, a $42 million jury verdict for substandard repair work on a 2010 Honda Fit should sound a clarion call to dealerships, insurers and automakers.
"That's going to cause alarms to go off and red flags to go off," says Tracy, whose firm represents plaintiffs in vehicle safety and crashworthiness cases, including the owners of the Fit.
John Eagle Collision Center, a body shop associated with John Eagle Auto Group in Dallas, used glue instead of welds to fix hailstorm damage to the Fit's roof, although Honda's repair manual calls for 108 roof welds.
The shop took the cheaper (by $3,000) but unsafe route under pressure from State Farm Insurance Co., the vehicle's insurer, Tracy told Fixed Ops Journal. John Eagle's publicist declined to answer questions about the case.
If the allegation can be proved in court, State Farm could be found liable, says Tom Baker, a tort and insurance law expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
"The elements of a tort action are having a duty of care and then breaching it by action that's unreasonable," Baker said. "From a tort law perspective, if you got an automobile insurer that's pressuring dealers to cut corners in doing repairs in ways that make the cars unsafe, I'd take that case."