A man in Rochester Hills, Michigan, was running a standard errand. He took his car to the dealership to have his oil changed. While he sat in the lobby waiting for his car, there was an accident in the shop. A mechanic drove the car into another mechanic, killing him.

Two years later, the car owner faces a $15 million lawsuit for the accident he had nothing to do with.

Why is he liable? And ultimately, who will be responsible for the terrible accident?

Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death?

What Went Wrong in the Auto Shop?

In March 2020, a man brought his car in for an oil change and handed his keys over to the Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership. He sat in the waiting room while the dealership took the car into the shop for service. At some point, a 19-year-old mechanic got behind the wheel of the man’s vehicle, and tragedy occurred.

“He starts the car, removes his foot from the clutch, and you know what happens? The Jeep jumps and kills my client,” recounts David Femminineo, the attorney representing the family of the man who died.

The young mechanic made a mistake which caused the car to move forward and hit another mechanic, 42-year-old Jeffrey Hawkins who died instantly. It was later reported that the young mechanic didn’t know how to drive a stick-shift vehicle and had no license, according to a report by Fox 13.

Now, two years later, the Hawkins family is fighting for damages as a result of the accident. They are suing for $15 million. But, the defendant isn’t the person who caused the accident or the owner of the dealership.

The defendant in the case is the owner of the car.

Related: 5 Reasons to Contact a Car Accident Lawyer After a Crash 

How Are the Mechanic’s Family Seeking Justice?

The owner of the car was seated in the waiting room when the accident occured, but Michigan law holds him responsible for what happened and potentially liable for $15 million in damages.

According to Michigan law, when someone is injured or killed and a vehicle is involved, the owner of the car is responsible, as reported by Fox 2.

While it may seem like the dealership or the driver of the car should be responsible, Michigan law makes it impossible for the victim’s family to sue them because the accident happened at work and involved two employees. In Michigan, an injured coworker cannot sue the boss because of the boss’ negligence. The family cannot sue the dealership or driver for wrongful death, so they are exercising another option.

The family sued the owner of the vehicle. Michigan state law says the owner of a car is responsible for the acts of anyone driving their car. The car owner’s insurance company has already paid out $100,000, and the Hawkins family is seeking an additional $15 million.

But, it doesn’t mean the driver will have to pay.

Related: Workplace Accidents: Is It Workers’ Comp or Personal Injury?   

So, Who Is Legally Responsible?

The owner of the car has filed a lawsuit of his own. He has sued the owner of the dealership for indemnity, which passes responsibility for the accident back onto the dealership.

A court has determined that the car dealership is responsible for the losses or damages incurred by the driver as a result of the accident. The lawsuit puts the burden back on the dealership, meaning the dealership — not the driver — is responsible for damages in the Hawkins’ lawsuit.

As the indemnity lawsuit currently stands, the dealership will be responsible for covering the damages If the Hawkins family wins their lawsuit.

But, the driver isn’t off the hook yet.

The dealership is going to appeal the indemnity ruling. If the ruling in the case is reversed, the burden of damages would again fall back onto the owner of the car.

The wrongful death case is now headed to trial. Both the owner of the car and the dealership are fighting to avoid liability in the case. The attorney representing the dealership is now working with the owner of the car’s legal team as they both have an interest in winning the case. If the Hawkins family fails to win their case, both the owner of the car and the owner of the dealership can avoid liability in the case.

Related: How to Prove Fault in Personal Injury Case

Talk to an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney

As you can see, personal injury and wrongful death cases can be complicated. Options for families to receive compensation aren’t always clear. But one thing is clear: if you had a family member injured or killed in an accident, you deserve justice.

Talk to a personal injury attorney or a wrongful death attorney if you have experienced damages or losses as a result of another party’s negligence. Discuss your case today by contacting attorney, TJ Grimaldi. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023 to see how TJ and his legal team can help you get justice for your loved one.

TJ Grimaldi

TJ Grimaldi

TJ Grimaldi joined McIntyre in 2011. McIntyre recruited TJ to create the divisions of personal injury and family law, as well as to expand the existing criminal defense practice at the firm. During TJ’s tenure at McIntyre, he has helped oversee and grow these practice areas. He continues to practice in these divisions while also expanding his own practice areas to include estate planning and immigration law. TJ is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Florida and the United States District Court for the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida.