MUSKEGON, Mich. — A Michigan appeals court has ruled that a Chevrolet dealership in Muskegon is not liable in a case involving a tire that became detached from a customer's car shortly after being serviced by a mechanic who didn't tighten the lug nuts properly on one wheel.
A passenger in the car sued the dealership, Betten Baker Chevrolet, in 2017, alleging that his back was injured in the incident, which happened in 2013 just a few blocks from the dealership.
The lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the 2017 trial, and the jury awarded $40,000 in damages because it determined the dealership violated provisions in Michigan's Motor Vehicle Service & Repair Act (MVVSRA) of 1974 that protects customers from being charged for repairs "not performed." The jury also awarded $70,000 in lawyers' fees and costs.
The dealership appealed on the grounds that the plaintiff was not a customer and therefore not covered by the MVSRA provisions and that dealership had by strict definition completed the tire rotation.
A three-judge panel hearing the case recently overturned the lower court's verdict, stating that the tire rotation performed by the dealership was by definition "complete," in part because the MVSRA doesn't define the word "perform."
In reaching the decision, the judges relied on dictionary definitions of the word "complete" and ruled that the term "generally refers to the completion of an action according to an established procedure; the term does not imply that the action has been completed properly, successfully or without mistake."
The dealership admitted in court that its technician had failed to properly torque the lug nuts following the rotation, but citing language in the MVSRA determined that the dealership had indeed "performed" the tire rotation, "albeit negligently."
"There is not support for the trial court's determination that a tire rotation is not 'performed' if a service person fails to sufficiently tighten the lug nuts on one tire," the judges stated in their ruling. "To accept the trial court's interpretation would essentially turn every incorrectly performed repair into a violation of MVSRA."
Technically speaking, the appeals court vacated the lower court's decision and remanded the case back to the lower court.
The plaintiff has filed to have the case reconsidered.