Technician Certification Programs vs. Liability

By Christian P. Koop

One area I have not written about regarding automobile, truck, and emergency vehicle technician (EVT) certification programs is that of the liability issue. It has been suggested that liability issues related to vehicle and equipment repair may have pushed or helped create some of the certification exams offered by organizations such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) or the Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification Commission (EVTCC). In fact, a number of years ago an editor approached me to write an article that would support this school of thought.

Perceived Expertise

I started by conducting some basic research and what I found was no hard data or even published information supporting this factor. What I did find was an underlying school of thought that a certified technician will fare better in a court of law vs. a noncertified technician. The main reason cited is that when a technician goes before a judge in a case involving possible negligence, the first thing the judge usually asks is what makes the individual qualified to perform a given repair. If a technician is not properly certified, his qualifications come under a greater level of scrutiny than a technician who is certified either through a manufacturer or by an organization such as ASE or EVTCC. If you are not certified, the judge will probably ask you what makes you qualified to perform a given repair. And this applies to many areas, particularly if it involves safety-sensitive systems such as brakes.

Just think about the liabilities revolving around brakes that failed where someone was injured or killed. The horrible accident that occurred in Boston, Massachusetts, a few years ago comes to mind. Whether a hydraulic brake system like those used in most cars and light trucks or an air-operated system like those used on most fire trucks, the technician on the stand has to somehow demonstrate that he is qualified to perform repairs to the system. A valid certificate is essentially a document that states you have the knowledge and experience to perform a given repair and are therefore qualified.

Documentation Critical

Properly certified technicians sitting before a judge in a case involving negligence are better insulated, so to speak, from liability because they have a document that states they are certified in a given area. This document is a crucial item that will help demonstrate to the judge that the technician is qualified. If the technician is not certified by any organization, however, he is much more vulnerable and could be held liable for damages.

Another important item to keep in mind is that if gross negligence can be proven against a technician, liability damages can be much greater. This can be a huge financial burden against cities, municipalities, townships, counties, or fire departments that repair and maintain their own emergency response vehicles. Having properly trained and certified technicians on staff will go a long way to reduce their exposure in these types of cases.

Origins of Certification

A few years ago, I spoke with Tony Molla, vice president of communications for ASE. Molla said that ASE began in 1972 because the widespread perception of the automotive repair business was that there was a great deal of fraud. Incompetence was actually the real issue behind what the public perceived as fraud. Liability at this time was not part of the equation and not given any credit as a driving factor behind the certification program.

ASE was created because the industry felt it needed to develop standards that would improve the quality of repairs in the automotive repair field. ASE felt it would be much more effective if it developed a voluntary certification program because traditionally any mandated form of draconian licensing through the government was ineffective.

The true value of ASE, explained Molla, is its national recognition as a measure of technicians’ knowledge. In fact, most automobile manufacturers require it of their technicians. Many other organizations require certification, primarily because it helps ensure the work technicians perform is effective, efficient, and performed to industry standards.

Emergency Vehicles

Many organizations that maintain emergency response vehicles and employ vehicle inspectors [e.g., departments of transportation (DOT), state police, municipalities, fire departments] also require ASE and EVTCC certification for their technicians. Today ASE’s main function is to improve the quality of repairs and service to a large array of different vehicles through testing and certification. It offers more than 40 different exams, and according to its Web site there are currently more than 350,000 ASE-certified professionals.

EVTCC is also a voluntary nonprofit organization. It began in 1988 under the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Its main goal almost mirrors ASE’s creation and is essentially spelled out in its mission statement. It states, “The EVT Certification Commission, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to improving the quality of emergency vehicle service and repair throughout the United States and Canada by means of a certification program that will provide technicians recognition for the education, training, and experience they have in the service and repair of emergency vehicles.” EVTCC currently offers 20 exams for individuals who specialize in working on emergency response vehicles and subsystems, along with two management level exams. I think both ASE and EVTCC have been very successful in what they do. They continuously work on improvement, keeping up to date with the rapidly, ever-changing technologies in the automobile, truck, bus, and emergency response vehicle service and repair fields.

Ensuring Competence

The primary reason for developing certification programs in the automobile, truck, and emergency response vehicle repair fields has been to ensure technician competence. Along with this, repair entities gain more knowledgeable, effective, and efficient technicians that ultimately reduce maintenance costs, increase reliability and safety, reduce downtime, and improve the industry’s image. Properly trained and certified technicians will also help reduce exposure to any entity that is involved in a legal case where injuries or even death is alleged because of gross negligence of a technician.

CHRISTIAN P. KOOP is the fleet manager for the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Department. He has been involved in the repair and maintenance of autos, heavy equipment, and emergency response vehicles for the past 35 years. He has an associate degree from Central Texas College and a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Barry University and has taken course work in basic and digital electronics. He is an ASE-certified master auto/heavy truck technician and master EVT apparatus and ambulance technician. He is a member of the board of directors of EVTCC and FFMA and a technical committee member for NFPA 1071, Standard for Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications.

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