Matthew and Marcia Seebachan were driving to visit her grandmother near Austin a few days before Christmas in 2013. Suddenly a truck hydroplaned in a rain storm and collided into their small car. But a routine collision became a catastrophe when the roof of their Honda Fit collapsed and crushed them. Then shards of metal punctured their gas tank and the car burst into flames. The doors would not open and they were locked in an inferno.
Fortunately a passing motorist broke the glass and rescued the couple, but not before Matthew suffered horrifying third degree burns and he and Marcia sustained shattering injuries and extreme mental trauma. Medical bills were over one million dollars and lost wages were enormous.
How could this nightmare happen?
Investigators discovered that John Eagle Collision Center had only glued the roof in place after a previous hail storm — not welded it back in the 104 places required by Honda’s specifications and industry standards.
The couple filed suit. Pretrial discovery, including the deposition answers of Eagle’s body shop manager admitting fault, were especially damning.
A doctor testified that that they should have only sustained minor injuries, bolstered by the fact that the driver and occupants of the truck were not hurt.
Noted Dallas attorney Todd Tracy did a masterful job of showing that the collision center made the shoddy repairs to save money. The jurors did not believe the defendants’ excuse that the crash was unavoidable due to the slick roads.
The jury found that the body shop was liable for 75 percent of the damages and the truck driver was 25 percent to blame.
To arrive at how much damages to pay the plaintiffs, jurors then assigned numbers to these categories:
After a week-long trial, the jury showed its anger when it filled in these blanks on Monday. This jury charge shows how the the jury assigned damages. The verdict is even more sensational because usually to get to a enormous amount like this, a giant amount of punitive damages are awarded. None were even requested here.
The jurors and every one in our area know that Eagle is one of the largest automobile dealerships here. Statistics show that it grossed over one billion dollars and repaired over 5,500 vehicles last year. Mr. Eagle has now pledged to follow the required body shop guidelines and to encourage other dealerships to do so to prevent future tragedies. That’s certainly good news, but it’s too late for the Seebachans (and presumably others).
People naturally think the answer is a lot since they only hear about sensational verdicts like this one, not the small ones or zero verdicts where the defendant wins, which happens far more often in routine automobile accidents. There are many factors that influence the size of the verdict or settlement including the severity of the crash, fault, parties, medical care, medical bills, lost wages, disability, and the amount of insurance coverage or assets to pay a judgment. I discussed this topic in a previous post, how much money is my car accident case worth?
Another important question injured people want to know is will my case go to trial? Probably not, since 98 percent of personal injury claims are settled prior to a jury hearing the case. Even Mr. Eagle has disclosed that he wanted to settle with the plaintiffs out of court. But a jury trial is often the right decision for injured persons.
Todd Tracy recently filed a federal lawsuit against State Farm Insurance Company alleging that it fraudulently forces body shops to make cheaper repairs to save money. This new case will hopefully reform the fraudulent way insurance companies bully body shops to increase their gargantuan profits. State Farm has a staggering net worth of over $87 billion and paid its CEO over $8 million last year.
Hearty congratulations to Todd and his team for their impressive legal work.
The complete court file is here: Matthew Seebachan et al. vs. John Eagle Collision Center et al. DC-15-09782