Customers Fight Back: Local body shop facing legal action

Published: Apr. 20, 2023 at 3:18 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Two former customers of Hernandez Collision Center are taking legal action against the business after the shop sued them for speaking to WTOC.

A WTOC Investigation found the local body shop has repeatedly charged customers thousands of dollars in fees to get their unrepaired cars back. Now, both women have hired attorneys and are seeking thousands of dollars in compensation.

Former customer Elizabeth Andarge is countersuing for more than $15,000, calling the shop’s actions “outrageous” and accusing Hernandez of having “unclean hands.” According to the lawsuit, Andarge is asking the court to make Hernandez pay her back for the $5,183.83 she paid under “duress and intimidation” to get her unrepaired car back.

The lawsuit states she is also suing Hernandez for a minimum of an additional $10,000 for the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Andarge is not alone. Former customer Heather Hurst also paid $5,000 to get her unrepaired car back from Hernandez Collision and is also now taking legal action against the shop after they sued her.

Neither of the initial lawsuits filed by Hernandez Collision Center accuse either of the women of making any false statements - to WTOC or anyone else - about how the business treated them. Instead, they claim the women violated an arbitration agreement by seeking extra judicial remedies.

“I had no idea a business could take your vehicle and never give it back,” Hurst said last month.

Hurst’s attorney has asked for Hernandez’s suit to be dismissed but said they will countersue the shop if not. Court documents show they argue Hernandez’s lawsuit shows a “total lack of any case.”

Hernandez Collision Center has two locations: one off Ogeechee Road in Chatham County and another in Hinesville. A woman who said she worked at Hernandez’s Hinesville location in 2021 said she quit after management repeatedly asked her to lie.

Mandy Griffis sent WTOC her resignation email. In it, she said, “The reason for my sudden separation is the moral situation I feel I was put in.”

Griffis went on to say that a supervisor asked her to, “make it (a car part) look broken.” She also said she was resigning because she, “did not want (her) name attached to anything that wasn’t true.”

Griffis echoed something we’ve heard time and time again from customers - that cars sit on Hernandez’s lots for months, unfixed, and that the shop charges people for storage before any work has been done.

According to Better Business Bureau (BBB) Southeast Atlantic Office President Tom Stephens, most shops don’t do that.

“I thought that was quite unusual,” Stephens said.

Stephens said most shops will tell you to take your car home until they are able to work on it.

“Most ethical body shops would say, ‘we don’t have the parts, don’t bring the car to us until we have the parts,’” he added.

Stephens said when you do drop your car off, you should have it back within 30 days - not several months. And he said before you hand over your keys, look over the fine print first.

“Read the blasted thing!” Stephens said. “I know it’s boring, and it’s hard to do, but look for things like arbitration policies, or that they don’t take credit cards. Look for things that might be a red flag. And if you get that bad feeling, leave.”

WTOC reached out to Hernandez Collision Center’s attorney for comment on these lawsuits, and their former employee’s resignation letter. They did not respond to our request.

The BBB said they have three pieces of advice for drivers who need to get their car repaired after a wreck:

  1. Ask the insurance company who their preferred repair centers are.
  2. Do some research on the shop you plan to use.
  3. Don’t sign any documents without reading them over first.