A Texas jury just awarded a couple severely injured in a crash $42 million because their vehicle, a 2010 Honda Fit, had been improperly repaired by a collision center. Instead of welding the roof, per Honda’s repair guidelines, the shop used adhesive. That, according to plaintiffs, compromised the car’s safety structure and contributed to the severe injuries sustained.
The lawsuit states that Marcia and Matthew Seebachan were involved in a crash in December of 2013, about four months after they had purchased the used Fit. Though it wasn’t stated on the Carfax or disclosed by the dealership (based on court documents, it appears the couple also filed a suit against the dealership and Honda, but both were later dismissed), the 2010 Fit had previously undergone repair work on its roof, which had—according to the couple’s lawyer—been dented by hail.
That repair work apparently involved replacing the entire roof panel (labeled 9 below). According to a second suit—this time against the insurance company, State Farm—Honda’s “Honda Fit Body Repair Manual” requires body shops to weld a replacement roof panel to the safety cage.
Instead of doing that, the document says, the repair shop used 3M 8115 panel bonding adhesive. The “defective/deficient” repair compromised the vehicle’s structure, as the safety cage “collapsed because [the Seebachans’] roof literally separated where it had been glued with 3M 8115 adhesive rather than being welded.”
According to the case against that collision shop, the repairs “altered the structural and fuel system protection of the subject vehicle” and resulted in the doors jamming shut. The door beam failed as well, which “allowed the fire to enter the occupant compartment from below.”
Ultimately, it was the “altered level of structural and fuel system protection caused by the negligent repairs,” the suit claims, that led to the Seebachans’ serious injuries, which included severe burns for Matthew, who was trapped inside the car and was “conscious while his body burned.”
Taking a look at the Honda Fit’s safety structure below, we see that the pillars—which tend to be the main upper energy paths during a frontal collision—are connected via horizontal cross-members to prevent buckling. So what, then, is the significance of a sheetmetal roof?
The answer, according to the Seebachans’ lawyer Todd Tracy, can be explained by the concept of shear panels, which, like shear walls on a house, act to stabilize the structure from deformation:
Here’s another explanation involving wooden sticks as props:
And here’s the lawsuit in its entirety:
With the jury awarding $47 million in the case against the collision repair shop, the couple now turns its attention to the State Farm case, which alleges that “State Farm dictated to John Eagle [Collision Center] how the car was to be repaired.” Fox 4 quotes the insurance company as saying the allegations are “not supported by the facts.”
Either way, I think there are a lot of lessons to learn here, not the least of which is the fact that, even if a used car shows nothing on its history report, there’s always a risk that at some point, some repair shop may have taken a shortcut.