Can I Sue the Mechanic Auto Repair Shop for Negligence?
We rely on auto repair shops heavily for their knowledge and skills. They are supposed to make our lives easier by helping our cars run better with maintenance and repairs. Any trip to the auto mechanic should end with reassurance that our vehicles are safer and more reliable.
Unfortunately, auto mechanics can be negligent. Their carelessness can cost us money and lead to further repairs, or a drawn-out argument with the shop regarding insufficient repairs and refunds.
In the worst-case scenario, failed repairs cause injury accidents with devastating consequences to our personal and financial affairs. If you have a serious injury that you believe was caused by a negligent auto mechanic repair, you should discuss your claim with a car accident lawyer nearby as soon as possible.
Here is a general overview of what you need to know about suing a mechanic or auto repair shop for negligence after a vehicle crash.
Your Auto Repair Rights In New York
The Repair Shop Act grants specific rights to consumers when they deal with auto repair shops. Called a “Consumer’s Bill of Rights,” these rights include:
Written estimate: You can request a written estimate of any repairs your car needs. The shop can charge you for this estimate, but it cannot be higher than their standard hourly labor fee for repairs. Estimates need to include each repaired part, its cost, and labor charges. Once written down, the shop cannot exceed the estimate.
Work authorization: Repair shops cannot perform work on your vehicle without permission. You can authorize only the work listed in a work order or place an expense cap, e.g., “Call me first if the repairs exceed $1,000.” If the shop does not follow your instructions, you have a claim against them.
Replaced parts: If the shop replaces parts in your car, they must keep the replaced parts for your inspection. The only exception to this rule is if the part replacement fell under warranty or recall work or if you exchanged defective parts for new ones. If you wish to keep or inspect the old parts, make that request in writing before repairs finish. Shops must also keep parts if you authorized work over the telephone rather than in writing.
Detailed invoices: Repair invoices must include descriptions of repairs, cost, itemization of replaced parts, cost of each part, and labor costs. If the shop installed used parts or parts that do not meet original quality, they must reveal that on the invoice. Other invoice details should include odometer readings at drop-off and pick-up and promised delivery dates.
Inspection after repair: You can check over your vehicle before you pay for repairs. However, be aware that you cannot access employee-only areas or take your car out of the shop without paying.
Guarantees: Shops are not required to guarantee their work. But if a shop offers one, it must be printed on the invoice in clearly explained terms.
If you are unsatisfied with repairs, discuss it with the shop. There is usually a guarantee or other reasonable solution. But there are more serious claims that may require the attention of a personal injury law firm.
Causes of Action Against Auto Mechanics
When repair shops face legal claims, they usually fall into one of these categories:
Faulty work: Generally, mechanics mishandle repair work so severely, they do not meet industry standards. These claims usually result in broken-down cars but no accidents or injuries. Many people resolve them in small claims court or by filing a form with the DMV.
Negligence: Generally, a mechanic shop has a duty of care to provide the best repair possible and take reasonable care completing the repair job. If a mechanic’s faulty repairs are serious enough to cause a car accident (e.g., a brake line repair fails so badly, a car fails to stop and hits another vehicle), that may violate industry standards and become a negligent repair claim. In these cases, you may be able to hold the shop liable for car repairs but also medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Fraud: There are rare instances where a shop intentionally replaces working parts with defective ones to make you return and spend more money. If these scams become a negligence claim, you may collect standard damages (medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering) but also punitive damages if the shop committed this fraud over the long term.
You may have multiple claims that fall under different categories. Sometimes, these claims are difficult to prove and require expert witnesses and forensic evaluations of your vehicle. In those instances, you will better ascertain damages if you hire a car accident lawyer.
Is a Mechanic Liable for Damages from Repairs?
Recovering damages after defective mechanical work depends on the extent of the faulty repair and any consequences.
Common damages in these claims include:
Cost of repairs
Loss of use of your vehicle, including any rental fees
Vehicle replacement, if the failure was catastrophic
Medical expenses and lost wages in injury claims
Final illness, funeral, and lost future wages in wrongful death claims
Punitive damages in fraud cases
If your damages do not include injuries or substantial property loss, start by filing a Vehicle Safety Complaint Report to the DMV Consumer & Facilities Services Complaint Unit. The DMV investigates these matters and sets up mediation between you and the mechanic. If there is no resolution, the regional office investigates further to assess possible Repair Shop Act consumer protection violations. If it finds potential violations, it schedules a hearing where an administrative law judge determines violations and sets up fines or restitution.
However, your damages from this process are limited. You can only receive the amount charged for proper repairs. If you needed to rent a replacement car or incurred other expenses, you might need to pursue the claim in small claims court. That process includes understanding the details of what went wrong with your car and explaining it to a judge.
The limit to requested damages in small claims court is $10,000. If your damages include injuries or exceed $10,000, consider hiring an attorney to help you secure compensation.
Stay Safe From Auto Shop Negligence
We all want to trust auto mechanics because not all of us are car experts. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from negligence and fraud. They include:
Use a registered shop: The New York Department of Motor Vehicles requires auto shops to register. Once registered, they display a sign outside stating “Registered State of New York Vehicle Repair Shop.” If you do not see the sign, ask about registration. Do not do business with any mechanic unless you are satisfied with their registration status.
Find good referrals: Ask trusted people about reliable auto shops, especially if you are new to the area. Read Yelp reviews and be wary of any shops that attract numerous negative reviews. One or two negative reviews is regular--after all, some people will never be happy. But if you see consistent one or two-star ratings, find another shop.
Keep records: Auto mechanics must maintain all documents associated with your auto repair. But keep your own as well. Your vehicle file should include invoices, receipts, work orders, warranties, and estimates. Even if you never file a complaint, these records help with your car’s resale value.
Take notes: If you authorize work by telephone, write down the date, time, and name of the mechanic. Include the estimated price too. Anytime you talk to a mechanic, ask questions and make sure you understand the work and its cost.
Ask for replaced parts: As mentioned above, shops must provide you with replaced parts of the vehicle if you ask for them. Even if you trust the mechanic, it is a reasonable precaution. But if you suspect you may need to file a claim, the parts may help prove your case.
If you suffered an auto accident due to shoddy auto repairs, you might be in for a fight. You must prove the repair lead to the accident, your injuries, and your damages. An auto mechanic or their insurance company may argue they are not liable or claim the accident was not a foreseeable impact of their repairs.
Rather than attempt to navigate this difficulty on your own, an experienced vehicle accident attorney can help you understand the legal process and next steps. If you believe a mechanic's negligence caused your serious injury, we invite you to speak with an accident attorney at our firm about a personal injury lawsuit.
If you or a loved one have been injured and have questions about your legal options, contact Raphaelson & Levine today. Our personal injury lawyers have helped thousands of New Yorkers understand their next steps following a serious injury.
Howard A. Raphaelson founded Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, P.C. in 1992 after graduating from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Established in New York, NY, his personal injury law firm has obtained numerous million-dollar verdicts. With over twenty-five years of experience as a personal injury attorney, he has earned a trusted reputation from his peers, judges, and top leaders, including recognition among the top 5% injury attorneys as a “Super Lawyer” (Thomson Reuters) and “New York’s Best Lawyers” (New York Magazine).