Teen Mechanic Accidentally Kills Coworker During Jeep Wrangler Oil Change; Owner Sued

Imagine getting sued because you dropped your Jeep Wrangler off for an oil change, and it killed someone. One Jeep Wrangler owner doesn’t have to imagine this insane situation; he lives it. While this story feels absurd at first glance, it only gets more complicated the deeper you delve. 

Gray Jeep Wrangler JK "Rubicon" parked in the midst of a rocky 4x4 trail.
Jeep Wrangler | Cody Lannom via Unsplash

What exactly happened during this Jeep Wrangler oil change? 

According to CNET, a 2019 Jeep Wrangler owner brought his SUV to Rochester Hills Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge in Michigan for a routine oil change back in 2020. Two people were working on the oil change. The younger of the two techs – a 19-year-old who didn’t know how to drive a stick or even have a valid driver’s license – hopped in the Wrangler. 

The young tech reportedly stepped off the clutch while the Jeep Wrangler was running and in gear, causing it to jump forward, killing the second mechanic, Jeffery Hawkins. 

Why didn’t the family sue the mechanic or the dealership? 

An auto mechanic working under a raised Volkswagen Touran vehicle in Lower Saxony
An auto mechanic working under a raised vehicle | Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

Aside from the obvious tragedy, there is a strangeness to this story. Most folks can cite an instance of our overzealous love of suing in America, but this one seems far-fetched even for us. 

The family Hawkins family initially cast the blame on the dealership for their loss. The family felt that the dealership was responsible for the accident because the mechanic who made the mistake didn’t know how to drive the manual car properly and didn’t have a license. It would seem a fairly open and shut case. However, in Michigan, the law protects businesses from being sued by their employees or employees’ families. 

Since the law is more interested in protecting businesses over individuals, the deceased’s family is forced to sue the Wrangler’s owner to seek damages. While this feels pretty messed up, there is a method to the madness. 

Are you responsible for your car if you aren’t the one driving it? 

Man standing next to a Jeep Wrangler on a deserted road with the sun setting above a range of mountains in the background.
Jeep Wrangler | Matthias Koch via Unsplash

David Femminineo, the family’s lawyer, suggested that because of Michigan’s bogus worker’s rights laws, the family could sue the Jeep’s owner, accusing him of being “vicariously liable for the negligent acts.” However, this tactic isn’t nearly as cruel as it sounds. 

Femminineo plans to use the Jeep Wrangler owner as a proxy to secure the $15 million the family is seeking in damages from the dealership. If the court were to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, it would still require the Dealership’s insurance to pay. 

The jeep owner has reportedly offered $100,000 in policy limits as he agrees he “is liable for damages under the owner’s liability statute.” However, according to the court, he is due compensation, as it stands from the Dealership and the other mechanic.

 
Even still, that isn’t the end of it. The dealership made clear that they intend to appeal the indemnity ruling. And, if that appeal is approved, then the Jeep owner is right back in the hot seat. The case is heading for trial on May 20, 2022.

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