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Owner of Jeep who left his car at dealership for oil change is sued for $15M by family of mechanic


The owner of a Jeep became embroiled in a legal nightmare after he handed the keys of his vehicle to a Michigan dealership where a mechanic died while working on his car.

The family of Jeffrey Hawkins, 42, is suing the Jeep owner, who has not been named, for $15million over the death of the veteran mechanic.

Hawkins, a married father-of-four, was killed on March 13, 2020, while changing the Jeep’s oil at Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership in Michigan.

 A 19-year-old fellow mechanic, who didn’t know how to drive a shift stick and did not have a driver’s license, had started the car and removed his feet from the clutch causing the Jeep to jump forward.

Hawkins, who was performing an oil change at the time, was ran over and died instantly.  

It is unclear why the 19-year-old mechanic was hired despite his lack of qualifications. A lawyer for the dealership declined to comment. 

Under Michigan law, employees cannot sue their employers or fellow staff members for accidents that happen in the workplace. 

David Femminineo, an attorney representing Hawkins’ family admitted that the lawsuit ‘seems unfair’ but argued that the man who had taken his Jeep to the dealership is still legally liable for the tragedy.

‘If you go to lunch and give your car to someone and an accident happens, you’d be liable for that. Same thing happens here,’ Femminineo told DailyMail.com Thursday.  

The attorney said that the mechanic’s family was unnecessarily put through a heartbreaking and straining loss and that his two-yea-old son will never get to know his dad 

Lifelong mechanic Jeffrey Hawkins, 42, was killed on March 13, 2020, while changing the Jeep's oil when a 19-year-old fellow mechanic, who didn't know how to drive a shift stick and did not have a driver's license, started the car and removed his feet from the clutch

Lifelong mechanic Jeffrey Hawkins, 42, was killed on March 13, 2020, while changing the Jeep’s oil when a 19-year-old fellow mechanic, who didn’t know how to drive a shift stick and did not have a driver’s license, started the car and removed his feet from the clutch

His family is now suing the man who had taken his Jeep to the dealership, claiming he is legally liable for the tragedy

His family is now suing the man who had taken his Jeep to the dealership, claiming he is legally liable for the tragedy

The accident happened at the  Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership

The accident happened at the  Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership

However, Femminineo noted that the Jeep owner will be defended and indemnified by the Rochester Hills dealership’s insurance, which will ultimately have to foot the monetary damages. 

‘It does seem unfair, but the owner of the car is being defended and indemnified by the [car dealership],’ Femminineo told DailyMail.com

WHY WAS THE JEEP OWNER SUED?  

According to Michigan law, the only remedy for employees in cases of injury in the workplace is workers’ compensation. 

The state law states: ‘If someone other than either the worker, the employer, or a coworker is responsible for an injury, that “third party” can be sued,’ the Michigan Government website states.

‘Thus, if a worker is injured because of the bad design of a machine which the employer purchased from an independent company, the worker can sue the manufacturer of that machine for civil damages. 

‘If an employer has paid workers’ compensation benefits to a worker and the worker later obtains a recovery from a third party, the employer is entitled to be paid back for the workers’ compensation benefits it paid to the worker. The employer, however, must pay for its share of the attorney fees and costs in the lawsuit against the third party.’

Source: Michigan Government  

A lawyer hired by the dealership and representing the Jeep owner was reached out by DailyMail.com and refused to comment.

The Rochester Hills Jeep dealership cannot be sued due to a legal standard in Michigan that protects employers from liability in workplace accidents. 

The 19-year-old also can’t be sued because the same legal parameter prevents employees involved in accidents from suing each other. 

Femminineo says that the strategy is merely a legal detour to ensure Hawkins’ family is compensated for the unfathomable loss of the family man and that the Jeep owner will be exempted from paying money in the civil case, as he is backed by the dealership’s insurance. 

The Michigan law states that ‘if someone other than either the worker, the employer, or a coworker is responsible for an injury, that “third party” – in this case the Jeep owner – can be sued.

The attorney said that the mechanic’s family was unnecessarily put through a heartbreaking and straining loss. 

‘[The 19-year-old mechanic] starts the car, removes his foot from the clutch, and you know what happens? The Jeep jumps and kills my client,’ Femminineo told FOX News.

‘He was an excellent man,’ Femminineo added. ‘The two-year-old who was about one at the time of the accident, the time of the death, he’ll never know his father.’ 

Femminineo told DailyMail.com that the owner of the car was liable because he voluntarily handed the keys to his vehicle to the dealership. 

Attorney David Femminineo noted that the Jeep owner, who has not been publicly named, will be defended and indemnified by the Rochester Hills dealership's insurance, which will ultimately have to foot the monetary damages

Attorney David Femminineo noted that the Jeep owner, who has not been publicly named, will be defended and indemnified by the Rochester Hills dealership’s insurance, which will ultimately have to foot the monetary damages

‘When you hand your car over to anybody including the valet or the person at the service desk at your local dealership, you better be able to trust that person,’ he told FOX.  

The dealership’s insurance will be defending the owner and paying for any judgement and legal fees. 

A court date is scheduled for May 20 and Hawkins’ state is suing for $15 million dollars in monetary damages. 

DailyMail.com reached out to the Jeep’s owner inquiring about why the 19-year-old mechanic had been hired given that he did not know how to drive a manual gearbox, but the attorney declined to comment. 



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