Jeep dealer settles with mechanic family in fatal oil change accident

Image for article titled Jeep dealer settles with mechanic's family killed in tragic oil change accident

Photo: Fox 2 Detroit

A few months ago we explained why a Jeep owner was is sued for the death of a mechanic during an oil change gone wrong at a Stellantis dealer in Michigan. Now Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge has agreed to settle with the mechanic’s family.

David Femminineo, an attorney for Jeffrey Hawkins Family, told FOX 2 Detroit that the dealer has settled with the Hawkins family for an undisclosed amount after the mechanic was killed in mid-March 2020.

It is the end of a rather strange legal saga that at first resulted in the owner of the jeep – not the dealer gets sued. Suing the owner was the only way to go recourse for the Hawkins family under Michigan law, despite the fact that the 19-year-old employee who struck Hawkins did not have a driver’s license and did not know how to operate a manual transmission.

According to Fox2, Oakland County court documents detail what happened that day. The 19-year-old had been working at the dealership for two months and had just completed the job on the Wrangler:

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.

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 cabinet. A co-worker 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 cabinet.

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.

The 19-year-old did not face criminal charges, as the dealer was given “permission” to use the vehicle. Here is a little explanation as to why the teenager and the dealer could not be sued by the family, as we first reported in May:

As Femminineo explained to Jalopnik, the Hawkins family cannot directly sue the retailer or its management. Michigan workers’ compensation law says you can’t sue a co-worker for negligence while you’re on the job. So the Hawkins family’s only option was to sue the Jeep owner. But that doesn’t mean the Jeep owner will be held responsible for the accidental death.

According to Femminineo, when the Hawkins family sued the Jeep’s owner, that person immediately sued the dealership for damages and won. With that victory in place, whatever the outcome of the Hawkins family’s lawsuit against the Jeep owner will be the legal liability of Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge (and their insurance company). Basically, while the owner of the Jeep is named in the suit, that person won’t face any consequences from the trial or the verdict.

Hawkins was married with four children and had worked for several years as a mechanic before his untimely death.

“He was an excellent man” Feminineo told FOX 2. “The two-year-old, who was about a year old at the time of the accident, the time of the death — he’s never going to know his father.”

The family demanded $15 million in damages. When news of this story first broke, we reached out to the retailer for comment, but the retailer never answered.

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