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AVs and Repair Shop Liability

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July 7, 2021—When it comes to autonomous vehicles (AVs), many of the rules that will govern the technology and the way we interact with it have yet to be written. 

While the potential of the latest and still-developing automotive technology is undoubtedly promising, it does come at a risk, leaving repair shops open to new and evolving liability standards. 

For an introductory look at some of the challenges that could impact the average repair shop down the line, ADAPT spoke with William Ferreira, lead attorney for the California-based Automotive Defense Specialists, a law firm representing auto repair facilities and technicians on a variety of legal needs.


What is one of the biggest challenges that elements like ADAS and autonomous vehicle technology will pose to the average repair shop?

Certainly data liability is a major concern. Most cars now come with significant GPS modifications so that you know everywhere that car has been and every driving condition it encountered. You can actually see the elevation they were at and that a moment where they went somewhere where oxygen levels were low might have been the cause of a misfire in the engine. 

Details of that nature can obviously be helpful diagnostic information, but the info stored in terms of things like GPS-tracked locations is going to cause significant legal issues about accessing that data. Most people are secretive about their data and don't want their data shared or analyzed. 

Access to that data raises major legal questions on who should use that info and under what circumstances, but at the end of the day, with how technologically-advanced most vehicles are becoming, the liability factor for anyone who touches one of these vehicles is going to go through the roof. 


What could that mean for the repair shop? Can you give an example?

What I’m referencing here is any vehicle with features like advanced cruise control operations or lane change assist, or self-driving cars or cars with self-assist features. At some point someone is going to roll over their SUV, there's going to be a lawsuit, and one of the main defendants is going to be the shop that worked on that car six months ago—even if they just did an oil change. Suddenly that repair shop could be facing allegations that they miscalibrated something when they plugged in to check the car’s monitors or maybe they failed to discern the car’s data correctly.

More and more shops are going to be facing a scenario where a passenger is looking to sue because something didn’t work correctly and someone was seriously harmed or wound up in a wheelchair, and suddenly everyone that’s ever touched the car, worked on that car, or smelled that car is going to find themselves as a defendant in that lawsuit. 

A sad reality is that we live in a sue-happy world and if there’s money to be made, even if it’s just insurance money, people will come after you and unfortunately that’s something shops are going to have to start building in a litigation budget should they ever need it. 

If you're a mom and pop shop or one-man band, you likely won’t have too much exposure to this problem just yet, but if you’ve got a significant operation you’ll want to start planning for this. 


Why will this impact smaller, more independent operations differently?

The cars that have these features aren’t trickling down to those mom and pop shops as much yet. If you consider Tesla as an example, there are some very specific requirements as a shop that you need to meet before you can even touch a Tesla. Tesla is being very intentional in controlling who touches these vehicles. Those shops that are equipped to work on Teslas are few and far between right now.

But as those Tesla models get to be five or 10 years old, and are no longer under warranty, the mom and pop shops will take a stab at repairing Teslas and they may not be as technologically competent and advanced as they need to be. They may not have all of the right training and all of the right tools and equipment and that’s going to open up a myriad of legal issues. 

You’ll start to see the shops that are looking to make a quick buck and doing a half-decent job, and you’ll see the shops that want to do it right but can't because they just don't have everything they really need. You’re also going to start seeing insurance companies funneling work into these potentially less-qualified shops because they don’t want to cover the labor rate of the more high-end, luxury operations. Insurance companies will be happy to send the work to the mom and pops that’ll do the job for half the rate of a high-end shop.

As these cars end up in the hands of the second, third, and fourth owners, they’re not all going to end up at Tesla-certified operations and the less prepared they are to handle those vehicles, the more liability awaits them. 


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