On Tuesday, August 11, a Vermont mechanic, Steven Jalbert, was arrested for manslaughter after a carelessly incomplete inspection on a 1992 Chevrolet Corsica in May 2014, which allegedly led to the driver’s death two months later. The investigation uncovered that the brake lines and rocker panels in the vehicle were rusted and corroded, classifying them as in “visibly unsafe condition.” The police affidavit showed that the mechanic did not take basic steps in inspecting the car, such as testing the brakes, putting the car on a lift, removing a wheel or testing it on the road. Jalbert, who worked at an inspection facility that is licensed by the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, was using an out-of-date manual as reference. Jalbert has pleaded not guilty, but if convicted on all charges, he faces up to 16 years in prison.
The impact of this decision is being felt all along the Northeast as a reality check. “This should be a wake up call to the collision industry,” Bryant says. “It’s one thing if you allowed a bad job to get out of your shop and were sued – there’s insurance to cover things like that – but to go to jail for doing a careless job is a whole different story. So many shops try to do the right thing but are told by insurers that they won’t properly reimburse them for what needs to be done. They say things like they will only pay for used suspension, which, in my opinion, is the worst thing that could be done! Used suspension from a total loss should never be used; there could be internal damage that puts peoples’ lives in jeopardy. We have to stand up and say no in cases like that.”