He’s Not Your Mechanic

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Q: I was driving my car in the center lane of a divided highway.  The weather was fine; traffic was moderately heavy.  Without warning, the vehicle immediately ahead of me swerved out of our lane.  I looked to see what he was avoiding and started to apply my brakes.  Dead ahead, a car was stopped in my lane.

The driver of the stopped car has passed away, penniless.  He told police that, just before his car came to a standstill, he heard a rumbling noise and experienced difficulty steering.  He observed pieces of the vehicle’s transmission rolling down the road.  After the accident, he saw that his front right wheel was sideways.  The driveshaft was disconnected and dangling from the undercarriage.

About two months before the accident, a mechanic had performed the required annual motor vehicle inspection and issued the required certificate.  How about if I sue his mechanic, for a negligent inspection?

A: Under the general rule, the mechanic’s contractual obligation does not give rise to tort liability in favor of a third party, like you.  An exception exists where the mechanic, in failing to exercise reasonable care in the performance of his or her duties, ‘launches a force or instrument of harm’.  Launching an instrument of harm means that the mechanic made the vehicle less safe than it was beforehand.  You would have to show that the mechanic actually created or exacerbated a dangerous condition.

As a matter of public policy, our courts do not want to force inspection stations to insure against risks, the amount of which they may not know and cannot control.  The thinking is that, if the stations become subject to liability to third parties for overlooking (rather than for exacerbating) safety-related problems, then the mechanics become insurers, and inspections cease to be affordable.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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