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A coffee-run to my local Starbucks (Brockton and Arlington) prompted my last article about the liability of an automotive repair or service shop for damage to a vehicle left in its care. Since posting my last article, I am happy to report that I have not seen any other mechanics using customer’s cars to pick up coffee.

Garages and other vehicle repairers would be wise to heed the warning, however. As previously discussed, a vehicle repairer is fully liable to the car owner for any damage which occurs when the vehicle is used without the customer’s consent. Civil Code, Sections 1835 and 1836. Presumably, this would include using a customer’s car to take a joy ride to get coffee at Starbucks. In these situations, the vehicle repairer bears the burden of proof to demonstrate it was free from fault or negligence. Downey v. Martin Aircraft Serv. (1950) 96 Cal. App. 2d 94.

Finally, the law prevents a customer from signing away this protection. In Gardner v Downtown Porsche Audi (1986) 180 Cal. App. 3d 713, the court held that an automobile repair garage may not limit its liability for negligent care of the vehicles entrusted to it by having customers sign a written disclaimer. The Gardner court relied on the premise that contractual clauses which purport to exculpate repair garages for liability for negligence violate Civil Code, Section 1668 and are invalid as contrary to public policy.

In most circumstances, the vehicle repairer’s liability for its negligence, or the negligence of its employees, is limited to the value of the vehicle left in its care. Civil Code, Section 1840. However, exceptions exist which may involve fraud or misrepresentation. If you believe you are the victim of wrongful conduct and have suffered damages or injuries, it is important to consult with an experienced, knowledgeable attorney.

The law firm of Heiting & Irwin has over 100 years combined experience representing the interests of people who have been harmed by the actions of others. We offer free consultations, a warm and inviting office, and a friendly staff to anyone interested in speaking about a potential legal matter. If you would like to speak with someone about your circumstances, please call our office at (951) 682-6400 for a free consultation.

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