The ruling is significant not just for the amount of damages awarded, but for the fact the jury decided the Michigan-based corporation could be held liable for the actions of a person it didn’t directly employ. The difference here, according to court records, was the degree of control Domino’s reportedly held over its franchises.
Usually, companies can be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior. But franchisors generally aren’t considered the “employers” of those who work for franchisees. However, this kind of complex corporate structure isn’t unique to the pizza delivery industry. Trucking companies, nursing homes and others routinely set up these complex business models with numerous companies, with one of the goals being to distance the main entity from any liability and ultimately reduce the damages any injury plaintiff might receive, as those smaller entities will have less of an ability to pay.
In the case of Weiderhold v. Domino’s Pizza, this was an auto negligence case in which plaintiffs claim a driver for Domino’s caused a 2011 crash that left another driver a quadriplegic, who died one year later of a pulmonary embolism related to his injuries. Plaintiffs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver, the franchisee and the franchisor.
Decedent had worked as a fire chief and firefighter for more than 30 years before the crash. His wife, at the time his fiancee, testified her husband was driving and she in the passenger seat when her husband swerved to avoid hitting the pizza delivery car after the driver dangerously pulled into their path. The Domino’s driver then drove onto the median and back across the roadway where it struck plaintiff’s truck, which then overturned.
Defendants alleged that the retired fire chief was at least partially responsible for the crash. Beyond that, the parent company argued it wasn’t responsible for the acts of a driver that it did not directly employ. The franchisee was an independent business and it had no control over the worker.
Refuting that latter argument was a heap of evidence showing the parent company did exercise significant control over its franchises. This included evidence of extensive of frequent inspections the company conducted at franchises and the control it exercised over employee grooming and hours.
You may recall that back in 1993, the company halted its “30-minute guarantee” program following a multi-million dollar lawsuit that was ultimately settled after delivery drivers were involved in a number of car accidents. From that point on, the company asserted any speedy delivery incentive programs would be generated by local franchises. However, the company provides incentives and bonuses to store managers who consistently have deliveries completed within 30 minutes. This raises questions about whether the company under its “Total Satisfaction Guaranteed” policy are exerting pressure on franchises that results in reckless behavior. This, it’s argued, is also why the company should be held liable when these kind of accidents occur.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Weiderhold v. Domino’s Pizza, April 13, 2016, CVN
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