Vehicle Maintenance Car Accidents
Many of us can remember the days when a parent or grandfather worked on vehicle repairs on their own vehicles in their own driveway. Those days are mostly gone. By-and-large, most people don’t maintain their own vehicles. They seek out vehicle maintenance from third-party mechanics for everything from changing the oil to rotating tires to major repairs.
Those we trust with vehicle maintenance have a duty to do the job they promise and ensure the vehicle is reasonably safe.
One of the major reasons self-repair fell by the wayside is cars have become a lot more complicated. It now takes expensive and specialized computers to access the onboard diagnostics system that was not present on cars decades ago. Additionally, people simply don’t have the same interest in working on their own cars.
This means that most vehicles go to a professional garage to have any needed repairs performed and for routine service needs. This costs money, but it is a lot more convenient, and the consumer does not have to spend the time to learn how to do things themselves. In the case of major repairs, it is very unlikely a person would have expertise or equipment to do the work at home.
Taking a car to the dealership or an independent garage may be a lot more convenient, but you are putting your life and the lives of your family members in the hands of whoever is working on your car. If things are not done properly, it can result in a serious or even deadly Boston car accident.
The first thing to understand is that when you take your vehicle to a garage to be fixed, whether we are talking about a compact coupe or a semi tractor-trailer, you are engaging in what is known as a service contract. This means that the repair is a bargained-for exchange whereby the garage will perform the needed work, and you will pay for that work. Being in a contract with a person or company puts you in what our Boston car accident lawyer would call privity of contract.
Some of our successes:
- $2,000,000 – Wrongful Death of a passenger in an auto accident
- Over $2,750,000 – Client injured by a defective product
- $400,000 – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by an auto accident
Even though we are talking about the concept of defective vehicle maintenance, the actual claim that will be filed will be a negligence claim related to the defective work performed on the vehicle that resulted in serious personal injury or death stemming from a car accident. Pursuant to Massachusetts law, it is first necessary to establish that a defendant owed a duty of due care to the plaintiff.
There are various ways to establish that a defendant owes a duty of due care to a plaintiff, and one of these ways is if there is a contractual requirement to act with due care. In fact, the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation office established a customer’s rights regulation involving auto repairs. This includes the right to have safe and quality work performed.
Now that we know that a repair shop or dealership has a duty of due care to perform all repairs in a safe and proper manner so as to avoid a serious or potentially fatal car accident, the next question is to whom that duty is owed.
There is very little question that this duty of due care is owed to the owner of the vehicle who pays for the repairs. In other words, if a garage fails to properly repair the front axel, and that axel breaks while a car is driving at highway speeds, causing a serious accident, we know that garage owed a duty to repair that part in a safe and reasonable manner.
This means that, if the driver of the car or a passenger in the car is injured, the plaintiffs could likely file a personal injury lawsuit in Boston against the owner of the garage and the worker who repaired the vehicle. While you are not likely interested in suing the mechanic personally, you will need to include him or her as named defendant in most cases, so you can also sue the owner of the garage. This is done through what is known as the respondeat superior or “master-servant” doctrine that makes an employer liable for the tortious (negligent or intentional) conduct of his or her employees. Unless the owner of the repair shop works for him or herself, it will likely be necessary to also sue the employee. However, the employer’s general commercial liability policy will probably cover any damages caused by the employee, because that is the reason for having such a policy.
However, what happens if the defectively repaired vehicle causes an accident that results in the serious personal injury or death of pedestrians or occupants of another vehicle? The more specific question is whether the repair shop owes a duty of due care to others on the roads. We know that the repair shop owes that duty of due care to the car owner through privity of contract. To determine if the duty extends to others on the roads, we need to look at the foreseeability that those people could be hurt by the garage’s negligent conduct.
There have been several cases on what has been termed the zone of foreseeability or the zone of danger. One of the landmark opinions was a 1928 case from New York. The name of this case is Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad, and it is taught to every first-year law student in America. In that case, railroad workers were loading a box of cargo onto a passenger train that contained fireworks. They dropped the box, and this caused the fireworks to either launch or explode. This resulted in serious personal injury to people on the other end of the platform, and the question became whether those people were in the zone of danger.
While that was a watershed decision, today we know that when you repair a car, it is foreseeable that if you are negligent when doing those repairs, it could result in a serious Boston car accident where innocent victims are injured or even killed.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some garages will have you sign a waiver before you let them work on your car. While this waiver may help them if something is stolen from your vehicle while in the shop, it is not likely to get them off the hook for any personal injury that resulted from a defectively repaired vehicle crash. This is due to various consumer protection laws, including Section 93A of the Massachusetts General Laws.
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