Car Accident Lawyers Serving Injured Clients Throughout the State of South Carolina

Mechanic Shop Put the Wrong Fluid in My Brake Line, Resulting in My Crash. Is the Individual Mechanic at Fault or is the Entire Shop Liable?

According to a fact book from the South Carolina Department of Public Transportation, problems with brakes—including auto accidents caused by improper brake fluid—resulted in 361 crashes in South Carolina in 2014, and a total of 162 personal injuries. In total, 109 out of the 361 accidents led to personal injuries of at least one occupant. To be clear, problems with brakes, including issues that arise when brake systems are not properly serviced by your mechanic shop, can lead to dangerous and even life-threatening auto accidents in Myrtle Beach, North Charleston, Columbia, Clinton, and throughout the state of South Carolina.

If your mechanic shop put the wrong fluid in your brake line and it caused an accident, who is liable? Generally speaking, you probably know that, in some capacity, the mechanic shop is responsible for your accident and resulting injuries. But when it comes time to file a personal injury lawsuit, should you plan to file a claim against the entire mechanic shop or against the individual mechanic who negligently serviced your vehicle?

Understanding the Doctrine of Respondeat Superior and How It Can Apply to South Carolina Car Accident Cases

When a mechanic at your mechanic shop fails to properly service your vehicle, and that mechanic’s negligent service results in a car accident, should you file a lawsuit against the individual mechanic or against the shop itself? Generally speaking, an injured plaintiff will need to file a lawsuit against the mechanic shop under the legal doctrine of “respondeat superior.”

What is the doctrine of respondeat superior, and how does it relate to accidents and injuries in South Carolina? As a definition from the Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII) explains, respondeat superior is a legal doctrine “that holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency.” In other words, the doctrine holds that an employer is liable for injuries resulting from his or her employee’s negligence or wrongful act, as long as the employee’s behavior occurred within the scope of employment. There is specific South Carolina case law to support this, as well. For example, in James v. Kelly Trucking Co. (2008), the South Carolina Supreme Court cites Sams v. Arthur, 135 S.C. 12 (1926), which held that “the employer, as the employee’s master, is called to answer for the tortious acts of his servant, the employee, when those acts occur in the course and scope of the employee’s employment.”

Applying the Doctrine of Respondeat Superior in a South Carolina Case

Let us imagine now that you had your car serviced at a mechanic shop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. You pulled into a parking place and went into the shop. You indicated that you wanted to have your brakes serviced, including new brake fluid. You were told by the receptionist that one of the mechanics working at the shop would perform the service, and you could pick it up that afternoon. You spent a few hours walking around Myrtle Beach before returning to the shop to pick up your vehicle. Shortly after driving away, you were involved in a serious accident because your brakes would not work. A subsequent examination of the car showed that the wrong fluid had been put into your brake lines, causing the accident. How can you prove that the mechanic shop is liable for the bad work of one of its employees?

To apply of the doctrine of respondeat superior, you will need to show that:

  • The employee’s wrongful or negligent act occurred within the scope of employment, or in furtherance of the business; and
  • The owner of the mechanic shop had the ability to control the conduct of the employee performing the brake maintenance.

Proving both elements should not be difficult. Given that the employee’s negligence took place while performing a task as part of the mechanic shop’s business, the first element likely will be met. In addition, given that the employee’s work took place within the shop itself, where the owner had the ability to supervise, should mean that the second element likely will be met, as well.

Contact a South Carolina Personal Injury Attorney

The days and weeks following a car accident can be difficult, especially when the crash was preventable. If you were involved in a collision caused by a negligent auto mechanic shop, an experienced South Carolina personal injury lawyer can assist you. Contact Joye Law Firm to learn more about our services.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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