A North Texas couple has been awarded more than $40 million in a lawsuit over alleged shoddy repair work that came to light after a near-fatal car crash.
No one was killed in the December 21, 2013 crash.
The four-year legal fight could also lead to changes in the collision repair industry.
“I have flashbacks all the time and relive it every day,” said Matthew Seebachan.
He said he’s still haunted by memories of that day.
“I remember the passenger side of the pickup just filling up my entire field of view,” he said.
Seebachan remembers the crash much more clearly than his wife Marcia does.
“I could just smell metal and rubber,” he said. “I was screaming for my life that ‘I’m on fire. I need to get out of here.'”
Both survived after being pulled from the burning car, but they sustained numerous injuries.
“Three of my injuries could’ve killed me, two should’ve killed me,” said Marcia Seebachan.
Matthew, who was driving, remembers his feet lodged underneath the pedals as the cabin filled with smoke and fire.
He sustained burns to part of his body as well.
“Both my heels are broken,” he said. “Any kind of pressure on my feet makes them feel like they’re being crushed.”
It was only after the crash that the couple found out that the used 2010 Honda Fit they had recently purchased had received repairs.
The repair work was not included in a car history report the couple asked for before buying the car, according to their attorney.
The repairs had been requested by the previous owner who took the car to John Eagle Collision Center in Dallas.
The Seebachans and their attorney, Todd Tracy, filed a lawsuit accusing the body shop of performing defective, negligent and untested repairs.
The roof of the car had been replaced with a new roof and in doing so, the lawsuit states workers at John Eagle used a glue-like adhesive instead of welding the roof shut, as is recommended by Honda.
Shoddy work, they claim, led to the fire and the couple being trapped inside.
A Dallas County jury agreed and on Monday, awarded the couple $42 million.
“It was just so validating to have a bunch of strangers look at us and hear our story and tell us: you matter,” said Marcia.
The couple wants their victory to send a message to companies.
“Integrity matters,” said Marcia. “You don’t get to make decision in the best interest of your company and prevent customers from making informed decision about the safety of themselves and their family.”
Dallas automotive executive John Eagle released a joint statement with the couple’s attorney saying:
"Dallas automotive executive John Eagle and vehicle safety lawyer Todd Tracy agreed to work together today to improve safety standards in the nation’s collision repair industry… The damages were awarded to a Dallas couple who were critically crushed and burned following a high speed head on collision when the roof of their 2010 Honda Fit separated in part due to being repaired with bonding epoxy instead of welded in accordance with an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) bulletin.”
The legal fight is not over.
The Seebachans are now named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against State Farm Mutual Automotive Insurance Company.
The couple’s attorney, Todd Tracy claims the insurance giant forced the body shop to use the adhesive rather than welding the roof.
State Farm released a statement to NBC 5 saying:
The comments made about State Farm cited in this lawsuit and press release are not supported by the facts. Additionally, they are not in line with State Farm’s mission to serve the needs of our customers and our long, proud history of advancing vehicle safety.