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What Victims Should Know About Suits Against Domino's After A Collision

When you've been litigating crashes involving commercial vehicles for as long as we have, you soon realize that no two are exactly alike. While there are a relatively small number of potential fact patterns involved, there are still a dizzying array of factors outside the events of the collision itself that can greatly affect how your case against the company proceeds.

For example, when the driver that caused your losses is employed by a franchised company, it can make the already complex process of reaching a fair resolution even more so. Because a franchisor like Domino's generally doesn't share responsibility for the acts of a franchise's employees, unless you have representation able to prove that it should be shared, you could end up having to make do with the franchise's insurance and its owner's assets. And because the costs of a commercial vehicle collision are more than enough to bankrupt most small businesses, you can expect to have a tough fight on your hands as you attempt to take them on. Award-winning commercial vehicle accident attorney Michael Grossman explains.

Questions Answered on This Page:

  • How does Domino's franchised business model affect who can be held responsible after a crash?
  • What is required to prove the franchisor's liability for a crash?
  • What does the ruling in the Wiederhold case suggest for litigation against Domino's?

Crash statistics courtesy the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

How Domino's Franchise Model Affects Your Case Against The Company

Whatever your opinions on their food, you're most likely familiar with Domino's, one of the nation's leading pizza/pasta carryout and delivery chains. With almost 5,500 franchises and nearly 400 company-owned stores, the company has a lot of locations, and even more delivery vehicles on our roadways every day. While the company's franchise business model makes it impossible to determine how many crashes those cars have been involved in, simple probability would suggest that their drivers have likely caused a significant amount of collisions.

Most people are familiar with the general concept of a franchise, in which a larger company (the franchisor) licenses the right to its logo, menu, and other service marks to an independent business owner, or franchisee. In return, the business owner agrees to run the franchise in accordance with the quality standards outlined in their franchise agreement.

What's less well-known is that, if employees of a franchise make a mistake that leads to someone being killed or injured, the franchisor is generally understood not to be financially responsible for the resulting damages. This may seem somewhat bizarre, since, in most cases where an incident occurs at a commercial venue, the corporate owner is often held liable, not just the manager of the business.

The liability employers share with their employees is based on the control they exert over those workers.

However, franchises differ in that the employees of a franchise business are primarily regulated and disciplined by the franchise, not by the franchisor. When Johnny the Pizza Guy delivers his product too slowly or forgets part of an order, he gets a tongue-lashing (or his walking papers) from his boss at the local store, not someone working for Domino's corporate.

This matters when considering who should be held accountable if Johnny causes a wreck, because the liability employers share with their employees is based on the level of control they exert over those workers. If a court determines that the business being sued didn't have much influence over the careless employee's work, it's likely to throw out a suit against that company. (This is also why independent contractors, who are, at least in theory, permitted a significant degree of autonomy over how their work is performed, are typically held personally liable for their careless acts.)

This situation leaves those harmed by a delivery driver's negligence with essentially two options. One is to successfully demonstrate that the franchisor (Domino's) had sufficient control over the daily operations of the franchise that they should share responsibility for the crash with its drivers. Obviously, it's better to sue a billion-dollar company rather than a franchise, but it may not be easy to prove their liability. In that case, the best course of action remaining would be suing the franchisee directly and attempting to collect from their insurance policy or corporate assets.

Of course, both of these options will be much more likely to succeed if you have the help of an attorney well-versed in the details of litigation against a franchised company. Proving a franchisor's liability for a driver is no easy feat. It requires evidence demonstrating how the latter's policies directly influenced the behavior of the delivery driver, all of which is in the possession of either the franchise or the franchisor. And that evidence is virtually impossible to obtain without a valid subpoena, drafted by an attorney and signed by a judge, that can compel the company to turn it over.

Defense lawyers who represent franchisors in civil suits like to pretend that it's virtually impossible to successfully hold them accountable for torts committed by their franchise's employees, and we won't deny that it's a challenging task. But at least one case illustrates why it's not a possibility to be dismissed out of hand.

The Implications of Wiederhold v. Domino's Pizza for Victims

This story begins in January of 2011, when Domino's delivery driver Jeffrey Kidd pulled onto Florida's State Road 50, entering the path of Richard Wiederhold's truck, which swerved into the median to avoid a collision. Wiederhold's vehicle then traveled back across the road and overturned, causing severe injuries that left him paralyzed, and ultimately resulted in his death a year after the crash. (Note that our firm was not involved in any aspect of this case.)

Mr. Wiederhold's wife later filed a wrongful death suit against the franchise employing Mr. Kidd, Fischler Enterprises, alleging that Fischler was an agent of Domino's and that the franchisor therefore shared responsibility for Kidd's negligence. They cited Domino's control over several aspects of Fischler's operations, including employee uniforms and the behavior of delivery drivers while on the job. This included forbidding non-employees to ride in delivery vehicles and mandating seat belt use.

Despite the attempts of Domino's attorneys to argue that the franchise controlled every relevant aspect of the business, including deciding who to hire and fire, and that the control they exerted as the franchisor was solely for the purpose of protecting their brand, a jury ultimately found for Mrs. Wiederhold, awarding her more than $10 million in damages.

However, it would have been virtually impossible for the plaintiff to prevail in this case without the help of an attorney able to obtain the evidence required to prove Domino's control over the franchise's drivers.

Grossman Law Offices Has The Experience You Need When Litigating A Case Against Domino's

While any commercial vehicle accident claim is complex and challenging, when a franchise is part of the picture as well, it generates difficulties that not every attorney will be prepared to address. Without the help of a lawyer familiar with the intricacies of these cases, you could easily find yourself at a disadvantage against the legal resources of a massive company like Domino's.

At Grossman Law Offices, we have almost thirty years of experience successfully litigating crashes involving commercial vehicles, taking on trucking companies of all sizes as well as private companies that own their own fleets. From a thorough initial investigation to aggressive litigation, we're well-prepared for every stage of your case.

If you've been injured or lost a loved one in a crash involving a Domino's delivery vehicle, please call (855) 326-0000 to find out how our attorneys can help you. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to take your call.

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