Friday, August 2, 2019
Court of Appeal:
Subcontractor of Repair Shop Not Exempt From Statute Requiring Written Authorization
Car Owner Paid Outfit for Repairs; That Company Shifted Vehicle to Another Shop; That Shop Demanded Payment From Owner, Charged for Repairs Not Done and Storage Fees, and Sued
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed a $255,605.80 judgment against an outfit for unauthorized repairs to an automobile, rejecting its contention that it was not subject to the statutory requirement that an owner’s consent be obtained in writing because it was a subcontractor.
“That is not how it works,” Justice Elizabeth Grimes of Div. Eight said in an opinion that was not certified for publication.
Her opinion upholds a judgment by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert A. Dukes in favor of Kingsang Cheung on his cross complaint against LT Motorwerks, Inc. (“LTM”) which sued him for the cost of repairs to his Porsche which had been in an accident.
The car was towed to R’s Tuning; an insurer issued checks to Cheung totaling more than $27,000; Cheung signed the checks over to R’s Tuning, which asked LTM, in El Monte, to effect the repairs.
Car Not Released
Notwithstanding Cheung having made pre-payment to R’s Tuning, LTM refused to release the vehicle to Cheung until he paid for repairs—which it had not made—and a $90-a-day storage charge. It then applied to the Department of Motor Vehicles for permission to conduct a lien sale, declaring that Cheung owed it $28,429.75 for repairs plus $2,790 for storage of the vehicle.
With Cheung away in Hong Kong, his uncle, Lik Sing Tam, tended to his business affairs, and blocked the sale. LTM then sued Cheung and Tam, seeking $27,419.01 for repairs that had not been done and storage fees amounting to $16,200.
Dukes found Cheung and Tam “to be extremely credible” and found testimony for LTM not to be believable.
In the end, Cheung prevailed on his cross-complaint, being awarded $97,050 in compensatory damages, $50,000 in punitive damages (pursuant to stipulation), and $108,555.80 in attorney fees and costs.
Exemption From Statute
LTM insisted on appeal that it was not subject to Business & Professions Code §9884.9(a)—a part of the Automotive Repair Act which provides that “[n]o work shall be done and no charges shall accrue before authorization to proceed is obtained from the customer”—did not apply to it because it was a subcontractor. Grimes wrote:
“As the trial court aptly stated, rejecting the claim that LTM had no responsibility to determine whether the customer consented to having work performed by someone other than R’s Tuning, ‘You’re kidding me.’ ”
Grimes went on to say:
“Under this theory, R’s Tuning is the bad guy and LTM is ‘a fellow victim’ with Mr. Cheung. LTM ‘despises R’s Tuning’s conduct,’ but should not be ‘the scapegoat for [R’s Tuning’s] wrongdoings.’ LTM contends it is ‘as innocent as the customer.’ ”
“The trial court obviously did not think so, and neither do we. Plainly, R’s Tuning violated its duties under the Automotive Repair Act, and remained responsible for any repair service done on the car, no matter who did it. The statute says so. But R Tuning’s conduct is not the question before us. We see no basis under which we may conclude that only the ‘initial’ automotive repair dealer has a duty to comply with the requirements stated in section 9884.9.”
Action for Fraud
She found other contentions lacking in merit.
LTM also insisted there was no basis for the cause of action for fraud. Grimes disagreed.
The jurist said that LTM lied when it represented that repairs had been completed when they hadn’t been, and filed a lien based on the nonexistent repairs. With respect to reliance by the cross-complainant, she pointed to Dukes’s finding that Cheung, who was young, believed the representation that LTM had the right to retain his vehicle until he paid its charges and storage fees.
The case is LT Motorwerks, Inc. v. Cheung, B290274.
Culver City attorney Jason James Buccat represented LTM and Sally S. Chan and Karen K. Tso of West Themis Law in San Gabriel acted for Cheung.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company