A Michigan man whose car was involved in a tragic and bizarre accident after he took it in for an oil change has been caught up in a hellish legal nightmare and is being sued under a state law standard holding him liable for the fatality resulting from the actions of a dealership employee who didn’t know how to operate a manual transmission.
Little did Sergio Enrique Diaz-Navarro know that the day in 2020 when he took his red 2019 Wrangler to the Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership that it would be a day when he would be caught up in a legal morass that could severely impact his life if the lawsuit is successful.
On March 13, 2020, Diaz-Navarro handed over the keys to his vehicle to have the routine tire rotation and oil change service performed and was waiting in the lobby when the lube technician attempted to operate the vehicle after the completion of the service, Fox News reported.
But the dealership employee, 19-year-old Daniel Thompson was unfamiliar with the stick-shift procedure and the Wrangler “lurched forward,” striking and killing 42-year-old mechanic Jeffrey Hawkins, striking him and pinning him against a cabinet according to court records.
After Thompson lowered the vehicle from the lift and attempted to start it, allowing it to idle to make sure that there were no leaks around the oil filter, the fatal accident occurred.
According to a Fox News report citing court records, “Thompson reached into the vehicle and pressed brake with his right foot, keeping his other foot on the floor,” the plaintiff summary reads. “He pressed the start button. When the vehicle did not start, he took his foot off the brake and depressed the clutch pedal. He again hit the start button. This time the Jeep started. He removed his foot from the clutch, still standing outside the vehicle. The vehicle lurched forward.”
Hawkins was subsequently crushed by the vehicle, and the father of four died as a result of his injuries.
Diaz-Navarro and Thompson were both sued by the victim’s family because of a Michigan legal standard, the dealership can’t be sued.
Fox News Detroit discussed the case with David Femminineo, the attorney for Hawkins’ estate who told the outlet “that Thompson did not know how to drive the vehicle’s manual transmission and did not have a license. The attorney also said the dealership cannot be sued because of a legal standard preventing an employee from suing their boss for negligence, which, in this case, would be the hiring of someone who should not have been driving.”
(Video: YouTube/FOX 2 Detroit)
It’s a complicated situation due to state law as Fox 2 explains, “In Michigan, an injured coworker cannot sue the boss because of the boss’ negligence,” according to the outlet’s Charlie Langton. “In this case, the boss 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 though the boss was negligent in hiring someone who shouldn’t have been driving, the victim’s family cannot hold the boss responsible,” Fox 2 reports, “Instead, the remedy for the victim’s family is to seek out worker’s compensation, which they have.”
“Under worker’s compensation, Hawkins’ family will receive wages and medical based on his dependents and how much he made at the time of his death,” the outlet reported. “However, there are multiple wrinkles here. Because Hawkins’ death involved a car, there is a statute known as the owner’s liability statute that means the owner of the car is legally responsible.”
“If the owner gave permission to the driver to drive the car, the owner is negligent. When the Jeep driver gave his keys over to the employee who was driving, he gave permission to the employee to drive the car. This makes the owner legally responsible and is automatically liable for the driver’s negligence,” according to Fox 2.
“According to a summary filed in court on March 1, the court has ordered the Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership, where the incident occurred, to indemnify Diaz-Navarro if he is found liable of negligence,” Fox News reported.
“So in reality, the owner is going to be held responsible, but the dealership’s insurance company is paying,” Femminineo said, according to the Kansas City Star, adding that it is hopeful that the verdict will bring an award in excess of $15 million.
Diaz-Navarro who wanted an oil change only to find himself caught up in Michigan’s legal spider web plans to fight the case when it comes to trial later this month, his attorney told Fox 2.
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