SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (FOX 2) – A 19-year-old who did not have a driver’s license and did not know how to drive a manual gearbox is not responsible for the death of a 42-year-old mechanic who died after the teenager put a Jeep Wrangler in gear and it rolled into the man and killed him immediately. .
Jeffrey Hawkins, a married 42-year-old father of four and a lifelong mechanic, died in March 2020 while working on the Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge. The family has filed a civil lawsuit against the owner of the jeep for $ 15 million in damages because, according to the law, it is the only way to act.
The unnamed Jeep owner can be held liable for millions of dollars in damages because, under Michigan law, if someone is injured or killed and a vehicle is involved, the owner of the car is liable.
This means that if you let your friend drive your car and they hit someone or something, and that victim is right, they would sue you and your insurance.
“We can not (sue the dealer) because of a legal standard involved,” said attorney David Femminineo.
READ MORE: Why a Jeep owner is sued after the dealer’s employee was killed during an oil change
The story has received national attention when we have investigated why the company is not sued by the family. But it has also led to two questions:
- Why is the teenager sitting at the wheel of the Jeep Wrangler not being prosecuted?
- Why is the family 19-year-old not right?
FOX 2 reporter and lawyer Charlie Langton said the 19-year-old could not be held criminally liable for a mistake.
“In general, a criminal act requires some criminal intent. This is an accident – quite simply,” Langton said.
The 19-year-old is not identified because he is not suspected of any crime.
According to the law, the owner is deputy responsible for the teenager’s negligent acts because he drove his vehicle with a permit.
If the vehicle had been stolen, the Deputy Act is no longer in force and the person driving your vehicle without
Why the teenager is not prosecuted
Documents filed in Oakland County Circuit Court reveal more details about what happened that day.
On March 13, 2020, Hawkins left his home, which he shared with his wife and children. It was a little over an hour later that his wife learned that he had been in an accident and was hospitalized. He died just before nine in the morning.
According to court documents, the Jeep owner took his Wrangler 4-door with him for 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 finished the job and lowered the vehicle and put all four wheels on the ground.
At this stage, he then tried to start the jeep to check if there were oil leaks around the filter. However, the Jeep had a manual transmission. The teenager did not sit 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 threw forward.
At the exact moment, Hawkins was standing in front of the jeep and had bent down to retrieve something from a metal cabinet. A colleague said he was actually on his knees with his back to the jeep where the teenager started the vehicle. When it hurled forward, it smashed Hawkins in the closet.
The teenager did not have a driver’s license and had never driven a manual gearbox, according to his own admission in a court deposit. He admitted that he had never had a driver’s license, driven a vehicle with a manual transmission and clutch pedal, attended a driver training course or attended a class to teach him to drive a manual transmission.
The trial documents show that the 19-year-old assumed that Hawkins had parked the jeep in gear when he placed it over the elevator. However, it is not known who parked the jeep inside Hawkins bay that morning. The store manager said that mechanics or carriers 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 car with a manual gearbox in either the first gear or the hill to prevent it from rolling away, but the operator should check the gearbox only when the vehicle is started.
Langton said the teenager made a mistake but that does not always mean there is a crime. He said it was unlikely that an arrest warrant would even be presented to the prosecution.
“Just because it’s a bad or tragic outcome does not mean there is a crime. Mistakes are made,” Langton said. “Even if you are negligent, it does not mean that it is a criminal act. If for any reason it was, a jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the 19-year-old intended to kill him.”
The teenager was not affected by drugs or alcohol, which would have affected the accusations and the civil lawsuit.
Why the family does not sue the teenager
The civil action can not be brought against the co-worker due to work injury compensation. As we investigated on Thursday, the family’s only remedy is work injury compensation, which prevents the co-worker and the company from being sued.
MORE: The car owner who left Jeep at the dealer is sued after the worker died during an oil change
By law, the Hawkins family’s only remedy is to seek compensation from the employee because he was injured and eventually killed at work. It prevents the family from being able to sue the boss or co-worker.
What can the Jeep owner do?
The owner of the jeep filed a lawsuit against the dealer for compensation, which would protect the owner from the lawsuit in the event that money is awarded to the Hawkins family.
In the separate trial, a judge has ruled that the dealer must provide compensation to the jeep’s owner. The dealer will appeal the decision on damages.
If the Michigan Court of Appeals finds that the original judge’s decision on compensation was incorrect, the Jeep owner would be liable for the financial payment to the family if the judge rules in favor of the Hawkins family.
How much is the family right?
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Femminineo, is worth $ 15 million. The Jeep owner’s insurance company has already paid out $ 100,000. If everything is as it is now, with compensation in place and the jury allocates the entire sum to the family, the dealer would be responsible for the remaining 14.9 million.
But there is another catch. Workers’ compensation also has a part in this because they have already paid out some money to the family.
Employee compensation has a lien at the end of the trial and regardless of the judgment, the work injury compensation would be owed to the money that has already been paid.
If the damages were canceled, the owner of the jeep would be fully responsible for the money allocated to Hawkins’ family.
On Wednesday, FOX 2 contacted the car owner’s lawyer – but he had no comments on ongoing litigation, other than to say that he will fight this case in a trial at the end of May.
“When you hand over your car to someone, including the clerk or the person at your local dealer’s service desk, it’s better that you can trust that person,” the lawyer said.