A Michigan man who left his car at a dealership for an oil and tire change is facing charges after his vehicle was involved in the death of one of the dealer’s employees.
Sergio Enrique Diaz-Navarro took his red 2019 Wrangler to a Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealer on March 13, 2020, and 19-year-old lubricant technician Daniel Thompson worked on the car. After the service was completed, the vehicle “slide forward” as the young worker attempted to operate it, crushing 42-year-old mechanic Jeffrey Hawkins against a cabinet, court records show.
Thompson had lowered the jeep off the lift bridge, then attempted to start and idle the car to make sure there was no oil leak around the filter, according to court records.
“Thompson reached into the vehicle and pressed the brake with his right foot while keeping his other foot on the ground,” the plaintiff’s summary reads. “He pressed the start button. When the car wouldn’t start, he took his foot off the brake and depressed the clutch pedal. He pressed the start button again. This time the jeep started. He took his foot off the clutch, while he was still outside the vehicle, the vehicle lurched forward.”
Hawkins was taken to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries, according to The Kansas City Star.
Diaz-Navarro and Thompson were both indicted in a Michigan court in March 2021.
Attorney David Femminineo, who represents Hawkins’ estate, told FOX 2 that Thompson did not know how to drive the vehicle’s manual transmission and did not have a driver’s license. The lawyer also said the dealer cannot be sued because of a legal standard that prevents an employee from suing their boss for negligence, which in this case would be hiring someone who should not have been allowed to drive.
Because the incident happened at work and two employees were involved, the boss cannot be prosecuted, FOX 2 notes.
Diaz-Navarro’s attorney told FOX 2 that he plans to challenge the case in a lawsuit later this month.
“If you hand your car over to anyone, including the parking attendant or the person at the service desk at your local dealership, you better trust that person,” the attorney said.
Femminineo told McClatchy News that the car owner is responsible for Hawkins’ death, in the same way that someone who lent their vehicle to another person would be liable for any injuries caused by the driver. He said a person who lends their car is liable for negligent acts because they have given the other person permission to use their vehicle.
According to a summary filed in court on March 1, the court has ordered the Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealer, where the incident occurred, to indemnify Diaz-Navarro if he is found liable for negligence.
“So in reality, the owner is held responsible, but the dealer’s insurance company pays,” Femminineo told McClatchy News. He said he hopes for a ruling worth more than $15 million.