News SEMA 2019

Crash Victims Urge Repairers to Consider Ramifications of Decisions

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LAS VEGAS, Nov. 5, 2019—A picture appeared on two projector screens in the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel on Tuesday afternoon. In it, Matthew and Marcia Seebachan are depicted as the textbook happy young couple —wearing wide smiles that suggest their lives, in that moment, were filled with joy.

Minutes later, the couple sat a dais in front of that picture. Years after that photo was taken, their bond is clearly still strong. But pain—both physical and emotional—is now their frequent companion, as well.

Tuesday's Collision Industry Conference gathering in Las Vegas was highlighted by an extensive group interview with the Seebachans. The couple was at the center of a high-profile court case earlier this decade, when they successfully sued John Eagle Collision Center regarding a roof repair. The couple also sued insurer State Farm before eventually dropping that suit.

On Tuesday, CIC chairman Jeff Peevy and his wife, Marie, led an on-stage discussion that focused on the human impact of poor repair decisions.

The conversation turned emotional at times.

"This could happen to any of us—any of our customers," Peevy said, after the Seebachans recounted their numerous injuries sustained in their accident, including severely burned lower legs for Matt and a spinal injury for Marcia. "This is about human impact as a result of bad decisions. Every one of us in the industry is in a position to make decisions. ... I think it's important to consider the decisions we make, and consider the lives that are in our hands when we make those decisions."

Marcia Seebachan noted that she and her husband can no longer fulfill their dream of having a family, due to "limitations we struggle with day to day. We've had to grieve those parts of our lives and what we saw for ourselves. ... Pain is constant for both of us."

To that, Matt Seebachan added: "There are days I can't focus for a while. ... There are days I just have to curl up in bed, other nights I don't sleep at all."

Here's how the Seebachans got here: State Farm had reimbursed a hail damage repair in 2012 in which John Eagle panel-bonded a replacement roof to a 2010 Honda Fit rather than using welds stipulated by Honda's specified OEM repair procedures. The Seebachans eventually took ownership of the vehicle and suffered serious injuries when, following a Christmastime collision in Texas, they were trapped inside the burning vehicle, in 2013.

A civil jury found John Eagle Collision liable for $31.5 million in damages in a late 2017 verdict. The Seebachans later settled with the collision repair facility for an undisclosed amount, according to reports. On Tuesday, Marcia Seebachan contended that, had John Eagle Collision followed OEM repair procedures, her husband's injuries likely would've been limited to a broken left leg.

The Seebachans' court case inspired multiple automotive trade associations to call for adherence of OEM  repair procedures.

Late Tuesday, Marcia Seebachan told a ballroom packed with collision repair industry professionals that she hopes they walked away from the day's emotional recollection of the well-documented crash by considering the ramifications of their repair procedures. 

Then, she thanked the audience for listening.

"You all have given us the opportunity, and the platform," she said. "And that's the most meaning that we can draw from this experience. We're grateful for that."

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