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Dishonest VA vehicle inspector wrongly certify your car was safe?

The commonwealth of Virginia has one of only about 15 mandatory state passenger-vehicle inspection programs in the country. While sometimes compliance seems like a hassle for a vehicle owner, a 2020 national study found that when a state requires safety inspections and certifications to keep dangerous vehicles off the roads, the fatality rate from car accidents is about 5.5% lower. Practically, this means that vehicle-inspection programs saved about 1,400 lives nationally in 2018 alone.

This and other important findings were published in a comprehensive 2020 Carnegie Mellon University study that reviewed years of data. (For those seeking more detail, this link ends at a press release with a link to the study’s white paper.)

The Virginia Motor Vehicle Inspection Program (MVIP) is our commonwealth’s safety inspection and maintenance (I/M) program. The Virginia State Police (VSP) administers it, utilizing licensed, certified private inspection stations. Inspectors and inspection stations are heavily regulated and subject to investigation for compliance with the program’s standards. State regulations include a complex disciplinary system for inspectors who fail to correctly perform their duties, thereby potentially endangering the public.

Periodic inspections of passenger vehicles determine whether they meet federal safety standards in order to receive certification stickers. If an inspection reveals a serious defect or necessary repair, the owner must get a repair before they can receive a safety sticker.

Obviously, this keeps us all safer on the road. A consumer may have no idea their suspension system is rusting, their brakes dangerously worn or their timing belt deteriorating. Requiring repairs or that the vehicle stay off the road protects the driver, passengers, other cars and pedestrians from accidents and collisions.

Lick-and-stick schemes

Unfortunately, some licensed inspectors give in to financial temptation and will certify vehicles – usually for a price – that are actually in dangerous disrepair. This could be a one-off situation or an elaborate conspiracy with a used-car dealership that wants to move used-vehicle inventory faster and for more profit.

In these “lick-and-stick” inspections, unscrupulous inspectors forego the comprehensive inspection commonwealth law requires, misrepresenting that vehicles are safe by slapping on official stickers anyway. This can subject trusting consumers who bought cars relying on the “passed” safety inspection to the sometimes-devastating cost of repairing pre-existing damage as well as to potentially dangerous accidents.

Legal remedies

Any Virginian who suspects that they are the victim of a lick-and-stick “inspection” should first contact the Virginia State Police to have them investigate whether the inspector improperly placed a “passed” inspection sticker on the car. If the VSP finds that the car was improperly passed, you should seek legal guidance from and representation by an experienced consumer-protection lawyer. An attorney with experience in this area will understand the evolving nature of the legal principles involved as well as the complexities of proof and of the regulatory scheme.

Potential claims in a lawsuit may include:

  • Violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act for a deceptive or unfair action that if done willfully can result in triple the actual financial damages
  • Fraud, including damages for emotional suffering if the fraudulent act was intentional
  • Various types of negligence
  • Breach of warranty
  • Recovery of attorney’s fees
  • And others

Various parties may be appropriate defendants in such a suit:

  • Vehicle sellers and dealers, and participating owners, operators and employees
  • Inspection stations
  • Inspectors

At our law firm, some lick-and-stick clients have confidentially settled their lawsuits, while others received judgments in a wide range from approximately $28,185 to $220,560. Of course, every case is unique.