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John Eagle Collision Case Re-examined at SEMA

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LAS VEGAS, Nov. 2, 2017—Every once in a long while, a lawsuit comes along that establishes a precedent. Such was the case in the recent trial involving John Eagle Collision, which resulted in a headline-grabbing, $42 million verdict.

That case was re-examined in vivid detail on Wednesday at the 2017 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Speaking at the Westgate Hotel, Todd Tracy of Dallas’ Tracy Law Firm spoke to a full ballroom, elaborating on what the collision-repair industry can learn from the John Eagle case.

“Folks, follow the rules, or face the consequences,” Tracy told the assembled crowd.

In early October, a Texas jury found that the John Eagle Collision Repair Center owes $31.5 million for performing an improper repair that led to a couple being trapped in a burning vehicle. The lawsuit gained widespread attention last summer, after Matthew and Marcia Seebachan, who were trapped in a crushed, burning 2010 Honda Fit after their collision, discovered that John Eagle Collision in Dallas had used adhesive instead of welds when replacing a hail-damaged steel roof on the vehicle prior to the accident. In the 2009-2013 Honda Fit Body Repair Manual, the manufacturer had specified that body shops need to weld roofs back on the vehicle.

John Eagle, which was Honda certified, was eventually assigned 75 percent liability in the case, (the other 25 percent of blame was attributed to the other driver) and it is believed by many in the industry that this case could become a watershed moment that’ll affect collision-insurer relationships and increase public awareness of OEM procedures.

Wednesday’s discussion in Las Vegas, led by Tracy, examined the lessons that can be learned from the John Eagle case. Among those lessons:

  • Always follow OEM repair specifications. “It can’t get any more clearer than that,” Tracy noted.
  • Never place a higher value on your business’s profit than your customers’ safety. It’s a philosophy that’s easy to lose sight of, as the John Eagle case symbolizes, Tracy noted.
  • Never over-promise what your shop can deliver. For example, Tracy suggests keeping your website wording at least a little vague, for legal purposes. The lawyer suggested posting phrasing such as “Our objective is to deliver the safest vehicle we possibly can.”
  • Report your shop’s repairs, and then keep a record of them. You can’t always count on reporting agencies’ information, in Tracy’s opinion.
  • If there are no OEM repair specifications, research how to make repairs, keep records, and keep clients informed. “Today, you’d better keep records on data, on accuracy, on integrity,” Tracy said.
  • Have customers sign off on your shop performing an insurance company’s suggested repair. That’ll help your business cover itself legally, Tracy said.

On Wednesday, the Dallas-based lawyer also suggested that shops stop using Direct Repair Programs, and thus stop letting insurers often dictate the repair process. Because Tracy feels that played a factor in the John Eagle case.

“Stand up to insurance companies,” Tracy told the crowd at SEMA. “...This is a defining moment in your industry. You’ve had a verdict that can change the industry. It’s up to you guys.”

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