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Missouri body shop sued over alleged improper repairs, wins case

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Business Practices | Legal | Repair Operations
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A Missouri vehicle owner recently lost his case against a body shop that he claims damaged his vehicle and underestimated the cost of repairs.

Plaintiff Jeremiah L. Johnson filed suit against Pundmann Motor Co. seeking $263,000 in damages. He took his 2013 Ford Explorer to the shop for repairs after it was involved in a two-vehicle collision.

According to Missouri Lawyers Media, the shop and Johnson’s insurer, Progressive, estimated between $6,800 and $6,900, while a second body shop found repairs would cost more than $20,000. 

Pundmann’s attorneys, Corey Kraushaar and Remington Harris, wrote that Johnson claimed his vehicle was severely damaged during repairs, which included the quarter panel being cut through and left unsecured, the use of unapproved recycled parts, and metal shavings left in the passenger air bag.

“Plaintiff further claimed that defendant misrepresented and concealed those items and did not repair the vehicle to a pre-collision condition,” the attorneys wrote.

Johnson claimed Pundmann Motor Co. was in breach of contract and violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

Kyle Motzkus, an employee of Hunter Auto Body, the second shop that inspected the damages to Johnson’s vehicle, was later called by Johnson’s attorney to give expert testimony

“In his deposition, plaintiff’s expert Kyle Motzkus illustrates the speculative nature of any allegation regarding damage to the C-pillar in plaintiff’s case,” court documents state. “Mr. Motzkus on cross-examination by plaintiff’s counsel stated as follows: …’I have to assume that my customer’s not lying…’ When asked if Mr. Motzkus was ‘saying that Pundmann cut into [the quarter panel]’ he responded, ‘I mean, unless anyone else did the repairs.’

“Plaintiff provides no substantive evidence that shows defendant was the cause of any damage to the C-pillar of the subject vehicle. Instead, plaintiff provides his own speculative testimony and an expert who speculates exclusively based on plaintiff’s statements to him.”

Pundmann’s attorneys argued that testimony from Motzkus should be thrown out because he couldn’t be fair and impartial since his employer, Hunter Auto Body, “has the potential to financially gain from plaintiff’s potential settlement or award in this case.”

Up until late November, the shop had charged Johnson $4,400 in storage fees and $850 in administrative fees in connection with the evaluation of the vehicle, according to Pundmann’s attorneys.

According to a motion filed by the plaintiff, Motzkus stated Pundmann’s didn’t follow Ford repair procedures while repairing the vehicle, and that it was unsafe to drive.

“Inner quarter panels are generally structural in nature,” Motzkus said. “They may be mild steel, but this one in particular is not, it is high-strength steel, low alloy, which means it is of a certain tensile strength, and it is not to be repaired. That would be considered part of the C-pillar.

“…my opinion is in my repair plan, which is based off what the manufacturer requires of me to do for those corrective repairs. However, it is of my opinion that when Pundmann Ford repaired this vehicle using a used quarter panel, that they caused damages unknown to them by using that used quarter panel. And in doing so, it caused the vehicle to be unsafe. Whether or not he did it maliciously, I can’t say that.

“But it is obvious that the repairs done with a used quarter panel still created these damages. That is my opinion.”

The testimony, and the case in general, proves the importance of documentation and photos of every step of the repair process, including during damage inspections and teardowns, as evidence of what damage existed before your shop made repairs and everything that was done to the vehicle while in your shop.

Johnson argued that Pundmann’s said the vehicle had been repaired to its pre-collision condition and repairs had been completed “in a workman-like manner” when that wasn’t true, which Missouri trade and commerce law prohibits, according to a motion filed by the plaintiff.

Missouri trade and commerce law defines an unlawful practice as “the act, use or employment by any person of any deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice or the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise…”

Pundmann’s argued Johnson failed to establish with substantial evidence that he suffered “an ascertainable loss of money or property” due to the repairs.

“In fact, the undisputed evidence, as shown by the testimony of plaintiff, establishes that defendant failed to disclose and/or made material misrepresentations regarding the repairs made to the subject vehicle at the time plaintiff took the subject vehicle from defendant,” a motion submitted by the shop states.

“Rather, plaintiff is relying upon guesswork, conjecture, and speculation beyond inferences that can reasonably be drawn from the evidence.”

Regarding the breach of contract claim, Pundmann’s told the court Johnson hadn’t provided expert testimony on the fair market value or diminution in value of his vehicle.

“Without such evidence, Plaintiff has wholly failed to make a submissible case on the issue of damages,” the motion states. “Plaintiff has attempted to prove his damages using the cost of repair test. However, the cost to repair test is an exception to the general rule and may only be used in ‘situations where repairs amount to a small percent of the diminution in value.'”

After a three-day trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Pundmann’s. No damages were awarded and Johnson was ordered to pay Pundmann’s court costs.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Williams, said his client has no plans to appeal the verdict, according to Kraushaar and Harris.

Kraushaar and Harris said Williams credited the defense team for “‘pointing the finger at Progressive,’ whose estimate was relied upon by the initial body shop.”


Featured image: Stock photo of a vehicle repair shop. (Credit: Kwangmoozaa/iStock)

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