In the case of Dominos Pizza, LLC v. Yvonne Wiederhold, as PR for the Estate of Richard Wiederhold, Case Number 5D19-2343 (Fla. 5th DCA October 23, 2020), Florida’s Fifth DCA affirmed the use of an “agency” jury instruction as it relates to the “control” exercised by a franchise.
Florida’s Fifth DCA issued a per curiam affirmation of the use of the standard jury instruction for “agency” regarding whether Dominos Pizza exercised a sufficient degree of control over a locally owned franchise in which one of its drivers was involved in a car accident. That accident resulted in serious injury and quadriplegia to Mr. Wiederhold.
In a nutshell, Dominos (the company) sought to shift virtually all liability for delivery driver accidents to its locally owned franchise owners through the use of its “Franchise Agreement.” That agreement, while specifying a great deal of detail over what the franchise could and could not do, also sought to characterize the franchise as an “independent contractor.”
The obvious import of this is that there is no vicarious liability for independent contractors. Meanwhile, if a jury were to find that “agency” exists, then there would be joint and several liability between Dominos and the locally owned franchise.
Clearly, there is a financial advantage if a jury were to find that “agency” exists between what is often a one-off local franchise (with perhaps $1 million in coverage) and Dominos Pizza (with perhaps $50 million in coverage).
This case went to trial twice and the jury returned similar results, finding agency existed in both cases due to the level of control exerted by Dominos. The original appeal in this case was more about whether marriage was required under narrow circumstances for a wrongful death claim. This appeal focuses on the use of the agency jury instruction for vicarious liability.
The results in this case clearly show that many people consider locally owned franchises to be part of their larger corporations. In other words, when people go to their local Dominos Pizza (or McDonalds, or any other nationally or regionally known chain), they see the local franchise as part of a bigger operation. They clearly do not care about fancy agreements created by lawyers for tax reasons or liability. Instead, they see it as one and the same.
This is why the jury should get to decide whether a local franchise is part of its larger branded company for liability and, in the spirit of social responsibility, the larger branded company (which is taking a large profit from each local community) should have responsibility for the liabilities created by their business operations.
If people saw this issue differently, then you would expect to see the results in the jury verdicts themselves. But, they don’t.
It is also important to make some other points with this case. As mentioned above, a typical local franchise will have a commercial general liability policy and a rider that includes coverage for delivery drivers (at least they should have that). Liability for the parent corporation through agency would really only begin if the underlying coverage is not enough. In this case, Mr. Wiederhold’s injuries were tragic and extremely severe. This is why allowing juries to consider agency in cases such as these is not going to bring on a flood of litigation as naysayers may try to allege and is why larger parents corporations should continue to be held responsible for accidents caused by their delivery drivers.
Talk To A Car Accident Lawyer About Your Case
This case exemplifies the need to hire legal counsel for your Florida car accident case. It would have been practically impossible for the plaintiffs to have taken on Dominos Pizza and their insurers without counsel. To find out how a lawyer with Russo Law can help you, call us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.