Jeep dealer pays family of worker killed during oil change, car’s owner pays nothing

A Rochester Hills Jeep dealership has agreed to a settlement with the family of a mechanic killed on the job in March 2020 after the victim’s family sued the car’s owner.

Attorney David Femminineo told FOX 2 that the dealership, Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge, and the family of Jeffrey Hawkins agreed to a secret settlement after he was killed on March 13, 2020, when the owner of a Jeep took his car in for an oil . change.

What happened was that the dealer indemnified – took responsibility for – the Jeep owner’s legal liability. For further explanation of indemnity, scroll down as we explain the legal definition.

According to Michigan law, if someone is injured or killed and a vehicle is involved, the owner of the car is liable.

MORE: Car owner who left Jeep at dealer sued after worker dies during oil change

So the Jeep owner, who was waiting in the lobby at the time of Hawkins’ death, was liable in the civil suit. There were no criminal charges in Hawkins’ death. Femminineo had sued the Jeep owner for $15 million.

“We can’t (sue the dealer) because of a legal standard involved,” he said.

Femminineo said the owner of the Jeep “didn’t pay a penny” but the dealer and the family reached an undisclosed settlement.

Why was the owner held responsible?

In Michigan, a worker who is injured or killed on the job cannot sue the employer because of the employer’s negligence. According to FOX 2’s Charlie Langton, the manager in this case is negligent because they hired someone who didn’t know how to drive a stick and didn’t even have a driver’s license.

So even if the manager was negligent in hiring someone who shouldn’t have been driving, the victim’s family cannot hold the manager liable.

Instead, the remedy for the victim’s family is to seek workers’ compensation, which they have and had to pay out $100,000.

READ MORE: Why a Jeep owner is suing after dealership employee killed during oil change

Under workers’ compensation, Hawkins’ family will receive wages and medical care based on his dependents and how much he was earning at the time of his death.

However, there are several wrinkles here. Because Hawkins’ death involved a car, there is a statute called the owner’s liability statute that makes the owner of the car legally liable.

If the owner gave permission to the driver to drive the car, the owner is negligent. When the Jeep driver handed over his keys to the employee who was driving, he authorized the employee to drive the car. This makes the owner legally responsible and automatically liable for the driver’s negligence.

What is indemnity?

The owner of the Jeep Wrangler had options when the lawsuit was filed and that was to seek redress.

Restitution means that, if the judge rules against the car owner, the dealer would pay the balance. In other words, it protects the car owner and instead puts the responsibility on the dealer.

In the separate lawsuit, the dealer was ordered to compensate the Jeep owner.

Why wasn’t the teenager charged?

The then 19-year-old lacked a driver’s license and did not know how to drive a manual transmission.

Langton said the 19-year-old cannot be held criminally responsible for a mistake.

“Generally, a criminal act requires some criminal intent. This is an accident — plain and simple,” Langton said.

The 19-year-old has not been identified because he is not suspected of any crime.

Under the law, the owner is vicariously liable for the negligent acts of the teenager because he was driving his vehicle with a license.

If the vehicle had been stolen, the deputy law is no longer in effect and the person driving your vehicle without

Documents filed in Oakland County Circuit Court reveal more details about what happened that day.

On March 13, 2020, Hawkins left the home he shared with his wife and children. It was a little more than an hour later that his wife learned that he had been involved in an accident and had been hospitalized. He died just before nine o’clock in the morning.

According to court documents, the Jeep owner brought his Wrangler 4-door in for an oil change and tire rotation. The service was performed by a 19-year-old who had worked at the dealership for two months and performed the maintenance. The teenager completed the job and lowered the vehicle, putting all four wheels on the ground.

At this stage he then tried to start the Jeep to check for oil leaking around the filter. However, the Jeep had a manual transmission. The teenager was not sitting inside the Jeep but reached into the vehicle with his right foot and one hand. He pressed the brake with his right foot and his left foot was on the floor.

MORE: Why teenager who disengaged the clutch wasn’t charged or sued after Jeep crushed mechanic

When he pressed the start button, nothing happened. Then he took his foot off the brake and pressed the clutch and pressed the start button. This time the jeep started.

The teenager was still outside the jeep and when he moved his right foot from the clutch the jeep lurched forward.

At that exact moment, Hawkins was standing in front of the Jeep and had bent down to retrieve something from a metal locker. A colleague said he was actually kneeling with his back to the Jeep where the teenager started the vehicle. As it hurled forward, it smashed Hawkins into the cupboard.

The teenager did not have a driver’s license and had never driven a manual transmission, according to his own admission in a court deposition. He admitted that he has never had a driver’s license, driven a vehicle with a manual transmission and clutch pedal, taken a driver’s education course, or taken a class to teach him how to drive a manual transmission.

Court documents state the 19-year-old assumed Hawkins had parked the Jeep in gear when he placed it over the lift. However, it is not known who parked the Jeep inside Hawkins bay that morning. The store manager said mechanics or porters will move vehicles but there was no information on who did it.

The second part is that it is common and recommended by experts to park a manual transmission car in either first gear or reverse to prevent it from rolling away but the operator, when starting the vehicle, should check the transmission first.

Langton said the teenager made a mistake but that doesn’t always mean there’s a crime. He said it was unlikely an arrest warrant would even be presented to prosecutors.

“Just because there’s a bad or tragic outcome, that doesn’t mean there’s a crime. Mistakes are made,” Langton said. “Even if you’re negligent, that doesn’t mean it’s a criminal act. If for some reason it was, a jury has to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the 19-year-old intended to kill him.”

The teenager was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which would have affected the charges and the civil suit.

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