Small Claims Court: Lose-Lose

Small Claims Court: Lose-Lose
Dave Redinger is a retired mechanic with over 45 years experience. He now works as a consultant and legal advisor on mechanical matters (automotiveexpert.ca), offering advice to garage owners and lawyers. Dave hosts “Dave's Corner Garage,” currently heard on AM 740 and Sirius XM broadcasting to 27.5 million subscribers!

No one wins when you have to go to court.

Let’s face it, it’s a new world out there. Everybody’s an expert. Need examples? Just look up an automotive subject on YouTube. It’s all there. Everything from changing the battery on your key fob, to replacing the water pump on a BMW 328i.

The reality is, with all this information and misinformation, you’re more likely to find yourself on the wrong end of a statement of claim than you would have, say, 10 years ago.

The issue is the disconnect that has grown between the shop, the repair and the customer. Often, the client really has a tough time wrapping their head around the cost of the diagnostics, never mind the cost of actually fixing the problem.

Fully explain the work

The reality is, the best way to avoid litigation is to more fully explain the repair before the work begins, plus make sure you’re right and that you fix the issue. Remember the old adage: Measure twice and cut once.

We used to take pictures during the repair, using them to explain the job when we returned the vehicle to the client.

Let’s assume that there is no resolution to your dispute with your client, and you end up going to court to defend your repair. (I should add here that I have been in court several times, acting as an expert witness to the corporations I assist in these litigations).

Rule #1

The judge or arbitrator rarely knows anything about cars. So be precise in explaining the invoice and the repair. Don’t fall into the trap of “me versus them.” You’re there to convince the judge, not the client.

Rule #2

Have back-up with you, including invoices for parts, labour guides, etc. Explain these documents slowly in layman’s terms, and if the plaintiff has an expert (most don’t) get them to agree with your facts. Don’t ask questions you don’t know the answer to. Don’t be combative.

Rule #3

The small claims process is lengthy. First, all parties meet with an arbitrator to discover evidence and try and come to a settlement. When all the facts have been aired remember this rule, and ask yourself, “Is it worth your time to go through this process, or is it best to settle and move on?

Rule#4

You have decided that you are right and your going to fight this. Remember Rule #3. Courts are busy and some cases take most of the day. There have been occasions where we couldn’t be heard and had to come back.

If it hasn’t sunk in yet, going to court costs you money. You’re away from your business. Possibly your witness (technician) is with you. Nobody wins going to small claims court. The reality is, if you win and get a judgment for cost, you’re never going to collect!

Rule #5

Avoid court, if possible. In the long run, settling out of court is the most efficient way to deal with this type of issue. A lawyer once told me, “If you have to go to court, you have already lost.”

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