Yes. In Georgia, if a mechanic or auto repair shop damages your car, or causes problems that weren’t there before, you have the right to sue them. And in many cases you can resolve the matter without ever going to court.
The two most common kinds of negligence we see with auto shops are:
- The repair is faulty or causes additional damage. For example, if the shop performs an oil change but then the oil leaks while driving and damages your engine. Or, mechanics claim that they fixed a problem but it’s not actually fixed.
- They caused some other kind of damage while working on it. This happens when you believe the mechanics damaged on part while working on another part. The most common sign is that a new, unrelated problem starts within days of getting the car out of the shop.
In most cases, these kinds of problems were caused by accident. But there are also unscrupulous shops that will damage something on purpose so that you will keep coming back with more business.
We’ll deal with both types of cases below—the mistakes and the scams.
How to Recover Money from an Auto Shop that Damaged Your Car
In Georgia, if the total damages you suffered are $15,000 or less, you can take the mechanic or auto shop to small claims court. However, on many cases this won’t be necessary.
The most important thing you’ll need to do is get evidence of what happened. In cases against an auto shop, the burden is on you to prove that the mechanic caused the damage. Usually, the mechanic will claim that they aren’t the one who caused the problem, or even that say the problem was already there before you brought it in. Proving your case can be hard, so it’s worth your time to gather hard evidence—and resolve the case without going to court if possible.
Here are the steps to take:
- Tell the mechanic what happened. If you haven’t already done so, talk to them and ask them to repair it free of charge. If they’re not willing to do that, move on to the next step.
- Call corporate (or the auto shop owner). Often, there’s somebody higher up who will listen to you and try to make things right. For a locally owned shop that might be the owner, and for a chain it’s usually the corporate office. You’re likely to get the best results if you’re calm and polite but very clear about what happened. Inform them that this will become a court case, as well as a bad review, if your car isn’t fixed.
- Gather evidence. If nobody at the company will make things right, it’s time to build your case. The best way to do this is to take the car to a different mechanic shop and explain what’s going on. Tell them you are looking for an independent, professional opinion of what the problem is and what caused the damage. Request that they provide as much detail as possible on how long they think the damage has been there. If they’re willing, you would also appreciate an opinion as to what may have caused this kind of damage. Get this opinion in writing.
- Talk to the Better Business Bureau. In some cases, the BBB will work to resolve a complaint against a local business and maybe even help you get a repair or the money you deserve. Having your documentation in place already will help get them on your side.
- File a claim in small claims court. Search for your local Magistrate Court, which is the same thing as small claims court. Your county’s magistrate court will have forms you should fill out to file your claim with the court. There will be a fee, usually less than $100, which you can also get the auto shop to pay for if you win. You may also have to serve court papers to the auto shop.
In small claims court, you can have a lawyer if you choose to, but it’s not required. Most plaintiffs (that’s you) will represent themselves with no lawyer at all. The most important thing to do is bring documentation including the independent opinion. Witnesses who can verify when the problem started may also help, but they don’t carry as much weight because they are almost always your family or friends, who are biased in your favor.
In many cases the mechanic or auto shop owner will never show up at all. If this happens, the case will likely be decided in your favor. Otherwise, just be calm and follow the judge’s orders at all times. Present your evidence and you have a strong chance of winning.
If you win, make sure that the court sets up some way of enforcing payment. Otherwise you may deal with months or longer where the mechanic still doesn’t pay.
What to Do if You Believe the Mechanic Shop is Scamming People
Some mechanics make sure you have more problems so you’ll need more repair work done. If you suspect this happened, you can still take the steps above, with a couple small changes:
- Talking probably won’t help. Most mechanics who are scammers are not going to respond to a simple request to make things right—although you can still try. If it’s a chain, corporate may be on your side even if the local franchisee is not.
- Reviews work. Your single best weapon against a scammer mechanic shop is public opinion. The whole reason the mechanic is scamming people is because they’re not getting enough business otherwise—so reviews that drive away customers really hit them hard. If you can get 10-20 friends to all put up a bad review on Yelp, you may actually get the mechanic calling you to ask how they can get them taken down.
- You should report it to the state Attorney General. Georgia’s Attorney General handles all investigations of scams by businesses. Just one or two reports about a business may initiate an investigation, and the business could get penalized or even shut down. You can start the process with this online form.
Need a Lawyer?
If you want an experienced lawyer for your case, we may be able to help. The attorneys of John Foy & Associates will give you a FREE consultation and help you determine your best course of action. Call us at 404-400-4000 or fill out the form to your right and get your FREE consultation today.