A few months ago we explained why a Jeep owner was being sued for a mechanic’s death during an oil change gone wrong at a Stellantis dealership in Michigan. Now, Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge has agreed to settle with the mechanic’s family.
David Femminineo, an attorney for Jeffrey Hawkins’ family, told FOX 2 Detroit that the dealership has settled with the Hawkins family for an undisclosed amount after the mechanic was killed in mid-March of 2020.
It’s the end of a rather weird legal saga that initially resulted in the owner of the Jeep – not the dealership – being sued. Suing the owner was the only path of recourse for the Hawkins family under Michigan law, despite the fact that the 19-year-old employee who struck Hawkins didn’t have a driver’s license and didn’t know how to drive a manual transmission.
According to Fox2, Oakland County court documents outline what happened that day. The 19-year-old had worked at the dealership for two months, and had just completed the job on the Wrangler:
At this stage, he then attempted to start the Jeep to check for oil leaks around the filter. However, the Jeep had a manual transmission. The teen was not sitting inside the Jeep but reached inside the vehicle with his right foot and a hand. He pushed the brake with his right foot and his left foot was on the floor.
When he pressed the start button, nothing happened. Then he took his foot off the brake and pushed the clutch and pressed the start button. This time the Jeep started.
The teen was still outside of the Jeep and, when he moved his right foot off of the clutch, the Jeep lurched forward.
At that exact moment, Hawkins was in front of the Jeep and had bent down to get something from a metal cabinet. A coworker said he was actually on his knees with his back to the Jeep the teenager started the vehicle. When it lurched forward, it crushed Hawkins into the cabinet.
The teen did not have a license and had never driven a manual transmission, according to his own admission in a court deposition. He admitted that he has never had a license, driven a vehicle with a manual transmission and a clutch pedal, taken a driver’s education class, or taken a class to teach him how to drive a manual transmission.
The 19-year-old did not face criminal charges, as the dealer was “given permission” to operate the vehicle. Here’s a little explanation behind why the teenager, and dealership, could not be sued by the family, as we first reported in May:
As Femminineo explained to Jalopnik, the Hawkins family can’t directly sue the dealership or its management. Michigan workers’ compensation law says you cannot sue a fellow employee for negligence while on the job. So the Hawkins family’s only option was to sue the Jeep owner. But that doesn’t mean the Jeep owner will be held responsible for the accidental death.
According to Femminineo, when the Hawkins family filed suit against the Jeep owner, that person immediately sued the dealership for indemnification, and won. With that victory in place, whatever results from the Hawkins family’s suit against the Jeep owner will be the legal responsibility of Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge (and their insurance company). Basically, while the owner of the Jeep is named in the suit, that person won’t face any repercussions from the trial or judgment.
Hawkins was married with four children, and had worked for years as a mechanic before his untimely death.
“He was an excellent man,” Femminineo told FOX 2. “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.”
The family was seeking $15 million in damages. At the time news first broke about this story, we reached out to the dealership for a comment, but the dealer never responded.