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HC retrofit workshop faces negligence action

AN AUSTRALIAN workshop is facing a negligence claim for retrofitting a vehicle air conditioning system with hydrocarbon refrigerants, following an incident that injured passengers and caused property damage.

Documents obtained by SightGlass eNews reveal that a law firm is claiming expenses related to the costs of vehicle repairs and personal injury from the workshop, based on the proprietor’s “negligence in the installation of the air conditioning system”.

Negligence claim notification
Negligence claim notification

The law firm involved cites the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants as number one reason for accusing the workshop of negligence. Some of the reasons the law firm considers the use of hydrocarbon refrigerant as negligent are as follows:

  • Previous accidents in the industry, involving the flammability and escape of such refrigerants

  • Industry warnings against the use of flammable refrigerants in motor vehicles

  • The known flammability of hydrocarbon refrigerant (as seen, for example, in the Material Safety Datasheet for propane gas)

  • The vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation to use non-flammable R134a rather than hydrocarbon, as well as similar recommendations by the manufacturer of components such as the compressor and TX valve

  • The lack of client’s authority or consent to use hydrocarbon refrigerant

  • The presence of numerous inevitable ignition sources in the motor vehicle

  • The presence of the TX valve in the cabin of the motor vehicle

  • Failure to obtain the advice of a suitably experienced engineer as to the safety requirements for a system charged with pressurised flammable gas

A number of other reasons were given, specific to the air conditioning system installation of the vehicle in question.

The law firm also says the workshop could have breached the implied terms of its contract with the vehicle owner due to the air conditioning system being unfit for purpose following the repair.

Although VASA strongly opposes the retrofitting of mobile air conditioning systems with hydrocarbons, we believe the workshop accused of negligence was not the only party at fault.

For two decades the industry, VASA included, has brought the hazards of hydrocarbon refrigerants to the attention of the federal Department of the Environment, state and territory work health and safety authorities, component manufacturers and suppliers. This incident and others could have been avoided, yet the situation remains the same.

After reading the above bullet points, surely no workshop owner would consider using hydrocarbons as a “drop-in” replacement for automotive industry standard refrigerants. They would have to be crazy to leave themselves wide open to legal negligence.

These are real world legal ramifications. Australia needs to wake up and shut this dodgy practice down. Does it have to take a fatality to make something happen?

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