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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2015

    Default Car Fire Caused by Mechanic's Negligence

    My question involves vehicle maintenance laws for the State of: Missouri

    I look to you for advice before I call the junk yard and declare this a total loss.

    I paid cash for a 96 Saab 900S (230K mi.) in March for $1700. Opted for liability insurance.

    In April I took it to a local Saab expert for a thorough look-over to see what repairs I might expect down the line. I was told I needed new tires which I got immediately and a couple of motor mounts were on their way out but did not require immediate action. Everything appeared to be in good shape. (I was the third owner of the car and it came with a stack of maintenance logs from the original owner.)

    In September, the clutch went out. (My husband is not an experienced driver and Iím sure he was a little to blame for burning it up.) I took it to the mechanic shop of a friend of a friend and they did the job for just under $1000.

    I picked up the car on a Thursday afternoon and drove exactly 9.7 miles. The first 2/3 of that was highway, the last 1/3 was city. As I approached my destination, the car died so I pulled over and waited a few minutes. I restarted and drove the remaining city block. As I pulled into the parking lot, it died again. When I say died, I mean it went completely dead. No electrical, no engine, nothing! A strong odorous smoke (not gas or antifreezeóI know those smells) began pouring out from under the hood. I began to call my roadside assistance when a man ran up and told me to get out of the car because it was on fire.

    The fire department came and, after some struggles trying to pry open the melted-shut-hood, finally extinguished the blaze and were on their way.
    I had the crispy Saab towed to my house and called the mechanic whose garage from which I picked it up. It was after hours at this point so I left a message.
    The next morning I called again and they immediately shrugged off responsibility and said it must have been a ďfreak accident.Ē This was not acceptable to me so I called another Saab expert I had heard about and arranged to have it towed over for his investigation. He could not conclusively determine the cause of the fire because the damage was so bad. Some parts were completely gone! He did include in his report that it appeared to have started over the transmission and that 2 bolts were missing, one from the transmission and one from the battery that holds the cable on.

    After many more frustrating exchanges with the suspect mechanic, he finally arranged to file a claim with his insurance. During the last conversation I had with him, he notably mentioned a couple things that caught my attention: he and his team had been in the electrical box, trying to figure out why the speedometer wasnít working. (I mentioned it didnít work when I dropped it off and told them it was not a priority for me right now.) That his team had trouble getting a bolt back on right for the transmission and it may have caused a small leak.

    I submitted the fire report, the investigation report from my Saab expert and a written testimony of my side of the story to the insurance agent. After nearly 3 weeks of calling her every other day, I was finally told that since none of the documentation I submitted conclusively stated that the fire was caused by negligence from the mechanic, that her hands were tied and she could not compensate me.

    I am out the value of my car, the $1000 I paid for the clutch work, towing to and from the investigative mechanic, and his fees. I am raising a family on a modest salary with very little wiggle room for such financial setbacks. I donít want to give up on this but I am fearful that if I spend even more money on the small claims court process, and I lose since I donít have conclusive reports, I will be out even MORE money.

    Do I have a chance in small claims? Will a judge tell me the same thing that the insurance agent did? Or, should I just call the junk yard to get the Saab toast out of my driveway.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2013

    Default Re: Car Fire Caused by Mechanic's Negligence

    Quote Quoting Wendylupea
    View Post
    Do I have a chance in small claims?
    Sure, there's always a chance.

    Quote Quoting Wendylupea
    View Post
    Will a judge tell me the same thing that the insurance agent did?
    Not necessarily. The insurance company has no obligation to you and has a vested interest in denying your claim if it is not convinced of liability.

    Small claims court is cheap and informal.

    Missouri small claims court appears to allow attorneys to represent parties so you could be facing the insurance company's attorney if it goes to trial. On the other hand insurance companies have to pay their attorneys an hourly rate so claim reps have to consider the cost of defense against the value of the claim and may reconsider once the lawsuit is filed. No guarantees, of course.

    Also keep in mind that anybody who told you anything or gave you anything in writing about the cause of the fire will have to appear in court to testify or those statements are likely to be inadmissible. Make sure those people are willing to go to court for you if you decide to sue.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2011

    Default Re: Car Fire Caused by Mechanic's Negligence

    The cost for you to pay a professional witness ( professional SAAB Tech) to do a complete tear down of the cars systems and diagnose the exact reason for the fire, then pay for them to appear in court is likely going to exceed the cost of the car by thousands.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    New Jersey

    Default Re: Car Fire Caused by Mechanic's Negligence

    I'm afraid this isn't worth pursuing in small claims court. You do not know how the fire started as well as the fire department or the SAAB tech that inspected the vehicle for you.

    No judge will side with you if you do not have proof how the fire started. For all we know it could have been a faulty carburetor or fuel injector line, nether have anything to do with the transmission nor the battery.
    I'm not a lawyer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.......

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