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Should Helmut have paid for towing expenses?

Helmut the mechanic made a mistake when repairing the caller’s fuel injection system, switching two wires. This caused the car to stall when it went above 4500 feet. The caller asked Helmut to reimburse her for her towing expenses, as Helmut admitted to making the wiring mistake. Helmut at first balked, but then decided to pay up.

I’m not sure Helmut should be responsible for the towing expenses. I mean, you can’t insist a mechanic who makes a simple mistake to be responsible for every bad thinig that happens to the car and it’s owner after that, right? If the mechanic follows normal shop procedures most mechanics follow I mean. There was no way Helmut could have done more tests in the shop and discovered this problem. He’d have to drive the car to 4500 feet to find out.

I think Helmut should fix the wiring mistake at his expense, of course. But beyond that? Maybe Helmut should offer a discount on a future service, but refund the towing fees? I don’t think that is right.

What do you think?

I can only think of the sign in the shop, collectibles. but you break it you bought it, ie you are responsible helmut.

I really don’t think so. He screwed up yes, but his obligation was to repair the screw up not all of the other resulting expenses. I’ve had people screw my car up too but the towing and lost time was on me. No way should he ever have presented a bill at the end though for correcting the problem. People that drive Volvos though should belong to the motor club.

I completely disagree with this. And I’m pretty sure if this was taken to court the courts would agree with me.

Helmut messed up a repair that resulted in vehicle NOT and needed to be towed. He admitted it was his fault.

Let’s say it was a brake problem…where he replaced the calipers, but forgot to tighten the brake line correctly and the driver gets in an accident and is injured. MOST DEFINITELY Helmut can be sued…it’s happened and in ALL cases I know of the plaintiff won.

To expand on Mike’s answer…
If this is to be considered in legal terms, the phrase, “but for”, is appropriate here.
In torts cases involving negligence, when the plaintiff attempts to prove liability on the part of the defendant, the plaintiff must prove (to the satisfaction of the court) that…“but for the defendant’s negligence, this incident would not have taken place”.

In the case of Jane Doe vs. Helmut the Mechanic, it is very easy to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the car would not have broken down at high altitude…but for the negligence of the defendant.
Helmut WAS negligent.
Case closed!

Helmut did the right thing by paying, simply because if it did go to court, he would have lost and would have had to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees (and possibly other damages), in addition to the towing fee.

Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think torts applies here but merchant law. Otherwise who would ever run a business where you had no ability to control your liability?

It depends on the def’n of “negligence” I guess. Was Helmut “negligent” when he switched the two connectors? Or was it an honest mistake, something any mechanic could do?

I’d guess the question isn’t whether a mistake was made or not. But whether Helmut did the work in a manner consistent with a professional mechanic. Did he do due diligence in other words.

If he had failed to tighten the lug nuts and the wheels fell off, that would be failure to do due diligence imo. Because Helmut – as a professional mechanic – has a torque wrench and knows how to use it. It is something he could easily functionally test as part of the final procedure, to see if the lug nuts were tightened to spec or not.

But Helmut had no way to test that those connectors had been reversed.

It’s sort of like if a physician puts on a bandage. But the wound is in an awkward location, so the bandage doesnt properly stick, and it falls off later in the day. So you have to revisit the office to have it rebandaged. This time the physician uses a different technique, and it sticks better. Is that the physician’s fault? He had no way to know the first attempt wouldn’t stick, since it was such an awkward location. Shouldn’t the physician be allowed to charge you for the second visit?

It’s a judgement call I guess. Helmut probably did the right thing from a repeat-customer point of view. At least he’ll get the customer back into the shop probably. So he has a chance to recoup some of his loss.

I’m no lawyer – even if I was I wouldn’t admit it!! :wink: – so I must defer to those w/more legal knowledge than I have. But as long as Helmut did the job in a manner consistent with someone with professional experience in his field – I don’t think he should have a legal responsibility to pay for the incidental costs of his mistake.

George, you can’t make the mechanic responsible for every bad thing that happens after he makes a mistake, but he is responsible for any costs that are incurred as a result of the mistake he made. Legally, it’s called “making the plaintiff ‘whole’”.

Like I said I think this is more of a commercial code issue where the person making the mistake has the obligation to correct the mistake and the person having the problem has the obligation to return to the mechanic to allow him the chance to correct it. That’s his obligation-to correct the error or refund the money, not pay for every incidental expense because of the simple error.

Plus if you look at it, doesn’t Volvo have some part in this for faulty product design? Sheesh, all of the various connectors on my Buicks were all different so that you couldn’t connect one device into another by mistake. Making two the same seems a little stupid. And then of course the customer who bought that stupid design and then expected Helmit to unravel the whole thing and fix it.

There is the business aspect to consider as well. A mechanic that spologizes, corrects the error, and reimburses the tow is much more likely to have a long, successful business career than one who quibbles about it. It’s a small amount invested in the business.

As to Volvo having any responsibility, I think that’s a stretch. Nobody can design anything that’s impervous to a simple human error by a qualified mechanic following proper repair protocols. While a design impervious to errors is ideal, it isn’t truely common. Volvo didn;t make an error in this case, the mechanic did.

It depends on the def'n of "negligence" I guess. Was Helmut "negligent" when he switched the two connectors? Or was it an honest mistake, something any mechanic could do?

The law doesn’t make a distinction between the two. If it goes to court…how can it possibly be proven then it was an honest mistake?

Would not you still be responsible for an honest mistake, or is there an exception in liability claims for an hones mistake?

Hey Tom & Ray, you guys sooooo missed the mark on Helmut, let’s do a brief review:
#1. She takes her car in to repair the glove box door and 3 weeks later she’s out $3000 for an engine “repair” which makes her car inoperable above a certain altitude!?! How do we know this was really nothing more than Helmut needing to make a boat payment?
#2. He denies responsibility for causing the new problem until she goes back and demands the problem be fixed after Tom & Ray advise her it relates to Helmut’s "repair"work.
#3. He concedes the mistake was his but is not man enough to face her his self and shamefully attempts to get her to pay for it!
#4. He then absolutely refuses to pay for costs she incurred as a direct consequence of his mechanical ineptitude until she submits a written demand detailing the history…he probably showed the letter to his attorney, who advised him to ‘do the right (and legally responsible) thing’.

Surely, upon reconsideration, the Tappet Brothers cannot condone this egregious car shop behavior and will withdraw their recommendation that she continue to use Helmut as her mechanic and for that matter, nor should anyone else!