Slippin’ Jimmy and the Slipped Clutch

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If you’re driving a vehicle with a manual transmission, you’d better be careful about whom you let drive it.

Including dealership mechanics. 

Apparently, it is your legal obligation to vet the mechanics’ competence – including their ability to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission. If not  – and one of them accidentally lets out the clutch with the engine running, say – and the transmission in gear – and there happens to be another mechanic in the way (or underneath) the car when this happens who happens to end up maimed or dead – it’s you who gets sued. 

In one case, to the tune of $15 million in asserted damages and compensation sought by the family of the mechanic who died after another mechanic did just that. 

Jeffrey Hawkins, a 42-year-old mechanic at Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Michigan, was killed when another dealership employee – 19-years-old without a driver’s license and (apparently) knowledge of the workings of a manual transmission – got into the customer’s vehicle, which had been brought to the dealership for an oil change – and “start(ed) the engine, removes (released) the clutch and then a terrible thing happened,” in the words of David Femminineo, the Slippin’ Jimmy lawyer who is representing the man killed and suing the man who had nothing to do with killing him.

The dealership who hired – and failed to vet the 19-year-old’s ability to safely handle vehicles with manual transmissions or even whether he had a license to drive anything – isn’t being sued. The 19-year-old whose inadvertence at best and reckless incompetence at worst directly caused the death of Hawkins didn’t get as much as a traffic ticket.

He is free to go. 

But the owner of the vehicle who brought it in for an oil change – and was waiting in the lobby when all of this happened – now faces the loss of everything he and his family possess, in the event a court awards Femminineo’s client everything he possesses as compensation for the damages caused by the dealership’s employee who couldn’t drive a stick and had no business driving anything.   

That’s the law, according to Femminineo.

He told Fox News that, under Michigan law, an employee injured or killed by another employee’s actions while on the job cannot sue the “boss” – in this case, the dealership who didn’t vet the incompetent and reckless 19-year-old who caused the death of Hawkins – even if it is agreed and accepted that the “boss” acted negligently by not vetting him.

Thus, the family of the victim cannot sue the “boss” for damages. Hawkins’ family will receive worker’s compensation for lost wages, based on his salary at the time of his death.

But under a Michigan law – the Owner’s Liability Statute – Hawkins family can also pursue additional damages in civil court, these to be paid out of the pocket (or liquidated assets) of the owner of the vehicle. Even if it is agreed, accepted and uncontested that the owner of the vehicle had nothing to do with the action that led to the accident/death caused by someone else operating (or attempting to operate) his vehicle.

The mere fact of handing over the keys to another party makes the owner potentially liable for any damages subsequently caused by the person to whom he handed over the keys – even if that person is a dealership mechanic or represented as such and, presumably, competent (and vetted) to safely operate the vehicle.

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,” Slippin’ Jimmy says. 

The law is the law.

But it takes a certain kind of lawyer to go after someone who caused no harm to anyone and who clearly acted in good faith, by handing over the keys to his vehicle to dealership staff, whom any reasonable person would assume had been vetted by the dealership to establish their competence to drive as well as their legality to drive.

It appears that, under the law in Michigan, the owner of the vehicle should have demanded to see the driver’s license of every person who might have access to and could possibly have gotten behind the wheel of his vehicle – and established that everyone who might get behind the wheel be competent to operate a vehicle with a manual transmission – before handing over his keys.

Else be on the hook for everything, in the event someone who can’t drive stick – and has no business driving, period – attempts to drive his vehicle and in the process ends up maiming or killing someone.

The law probably was meant to address the problem of an irresponsible person giving the keys to his vehicle to someone – like an underage teen – who then wrecks and maims or kills someone. But the fact remains, it is being used by Slippin’ Jimmy to potentially bankrupt a responsible vehicle owner, who had every reason to believe the people he handed his keys to were responsible professionals – mechanics! – who knew how to drive and were vetted to drive.

It is not the same as tossing the keys (and maybe a six-pack of beer) to a 14-year-old and telling him to go have some fun.

Except it is, in terms of the law in Michigan. Perhaps other states, too. Better call Saul – the eventual incarnation of matured Slippin’ Jimmy.

Bear in mind that even if the defendant – the owner of the vehicle – “wins,” he still loses whatever it will end up costing him to fight off Slippin’ Jimmy in court. That’s the way the law works in this country. You get sued – you need a lawyer. Lawyers aren’t free – in civil proceedings. So you pay your lawyer to battle the other lawyer, in the hope you don’t have to pay more.

What Shakespeare said about lawyers applies more aptly to laws that enable lawyers.

In the meanwhile, be careful about whom you hand your keys to. Even if it’s a dealership “mechanic.”

. . .

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34 COMMENTS

  1. “He told Fox News that, under Michigan law, an employee injured or killed by another employee’s actions while on the job cannot sue the ‘boss’ – in this case, the dealership who didn’t vet the incompetent and reckless 19-year-old who caused the death of Hawkins – even if it is agreed and accepted that the ‘boss’ acted negligently by not vetting him.”
    I very much doubt that is true. For it to be true they would have to negate longstanding legal principles and make it practically impossible to sue for damages if injured on the job. There is zero chance the unions would stand still for this. I think the lawyer is hunting for the opponent least able to defend the case for a quick payout.

    • Hi Michael,

      It’s true – in terms of the proverbial letter of the law. Whether it is actually applied is another question. However, the point remains that innocent parties are vulnerable to having to defend themselves against such vicious nonsense – at their expense, too.

  2. Thank the neo-prohibitionist MADD Mothers and the anti alcohol Jihad they have been waging for the last 40 years.

    I’d bet solid currency that is where this particular Intolerable Act came from.

  3. It’s not only more expensive for worse service at a dealership, it is now, apparently, dangerous. You put your property, finances, and life at unnecessary risk when going to a dealership. I was at the point where I only go to the dealership for recall work. Now it’s getting to the point where I’ll take the chance with the defect or pay to have it fixed somewhere competent.

  4. I had a fun experience with the state vehicle inspection racket. My Cadillac CTS-V with the Tremec was too much for the guy. I ran up to the car screaming at him to shut it off. About a thousand miles on the clutch to move it fifty feet.

  5. First thing is, I try at all cost to never, ever go near the [email protected]#$king stealership. Even when I bought new cars, 2000, 2012. Those cars, I still have, never went back. I am fortunate to never had warranty work needed. A couple different local (mostly) honest mechanics have crossed my path over the years, so I again I am fortunate.

    Recently took my daughters car to the stealership for an oil change, and a noise. It was a most miserable experience. What a production. You’d’ve thought I wanted a new transmission or something how hard they made it. Never again for me.

    When my son was 17 he got a job at a high end resort in Sedona, Valet parking some really nice cars. It was fortunate that I had taught him to drive a manual when he was young. He had some interesting stories about guys who worked there. The manager was impressed as most mini’s don’t have a clue about how to drive a stick.

    • Hi Norman,

      The irony – in re dealerships – is that they make a large portion of their income stream on service as opposed to sales. You’d think they’d try to provide quality service, so as to get as much repeat (and new) business as possible…

    • A-freakin’-men! I’d wasted some time recently seeing if I’d trade in my 2020 (con)Fusion with 23K miles on either a new Ford Escape or, as it did catch my eye, a 2020 Escape with but 7,300 miles on it. They were at 32K for the ’20 Escape, I wasn’t going to deal for less than $30K “out the door” (with tax & license). Given today’s market, they’d probably not have agreed. However, with what I still owed on the Fusion, that would have tacked nearly ten grand more debt on my car note, although they were offering a slightly better rate than the old loan. I took a few days to think it over, and politely told the sales guy (nice young fellow) that the main thing stopping me was taking on more debt ATM, not the price of the Escape, so I didn’t bother with haggling on it.

      I had a offer to refinance the loan on the Fusion that I had with Ford Credit with a local credit union, so I joined and got a better rate than what Ford had even offered on my purchase. But here was the “clincher”…how much was the “loan value”? About ten grand above what I owe! Coincidence? I think NOT. And to think the Ford “stealership” that tendered that offered acted as if they were “giving” me something by offering me four grand cash, to either cut a check to me, or be used as down payment on the replacement vehicle (had I “bit”, it would’ve been the down payment), keeping SIX GRAND for themselves! Bastards.

      The other thing that halted me from being ‘rushed’ on replacing my 2020 Fusion is that obviously, 2-1/2 years ago, I paid out SALES taxes, most of which go to “Cali(porn)ia”, a portion does go to the municipality the dealer is located at, in that case, the city of Folsom, CA, hence why they’re quite OK with sponsoring those car lots! At 8.25% in Sacramento county, a 30K vehicle will run over $2,400 in sales taxes alone! So just how often does one wish “To everything, churn, churn…?”

  6. Wow – this is good to know.

    I’m in SE Michigan, and I just took my truck to Belle Tire for some new skins and balancing. It is a stick. Funny thing:

    They originally told me it would be about an hour to get the tires mounted and balanced. I called 3 hours later asking if it was done. Their response:

    “We just pulled the truck in 15 minutes ago. Nobody that was here before then knew how to drive a stick.”

    Next time I’m pulling them off and dropping off the wheels.

    I would say this law is shocking – but nothing shocks me any more.

  7. When my vehicle was under manufacture warranty I had the oil changed at the dealership to protect the warranty. I requested to go into the shop area and observe/inspect for correct procedure. Got to increase my knowledge in the process. Oh, and I had the oil sourced from quart bottles, not 50gal drums.

    Recently, at an Infiniti dealership, had some maintenance performed and initially was refused access to the shop area. In a simple statement, I said either I observe, or bring
    the vehicle around and I’m out of here. In the shop area I had a great time sharing car experiences with the shop foreman, and learned how to do the job myself.

  8. Wow, definitely agree with the Shakespeare quote regarding lawyers. Maybe the fact that half the teevee ads now are for law firms is having an effect; funny how most of the “laws” written by Congresscritters (most of whom are also lawyers) shift the responsibility to anyone BUT the person actually responsible.
    The other half of teevee ads are Big Pharma pimping the latest cure in search of a disease – “ask your doctor about” the latest alphabet soup overpriced medication.

    • Hi Mike!

      I was riding the exercise bike at the gym the other day; they have TeeVees in front to try to help the time pass. Every third commercial was a Slippin’ Jimmy type touting his services. Injured? We care! Call now….

  9. “it takes a certain kind of lawyer to go after someone who caused no harm to anyone and who clearly acted in good faith”

    That “kind of lawyer” is known as a plaintiffs’ lawyer.

    • It’s also highly probable that the lawyer for the defendant is an insurance company lawyer, defending the company’s exposure.

      Main risk for the owner is if the award should exceed the limit of the liability policy.

  10. There’s a massive glut of lawyers in this country. Hollywood glamorizes the industry, drawing in people who dream of wearing power suits and having nice offices. But most of them are in so much debt they end up taking on whatever garbage case they can to afford beans and hotdogs for dinner.

    Now the family of the deceased has a pretty good case for wrongful death in the workplace due to hazardous working conditions, but that’s probably locked up in a boilerplate contract the wrench had to sign to get a paycheck. That contract probably had a line about binding arbitration and possibly even a hard ceiling for damages. So suing the dealer is out, there’s no big payout for them. So sue the kid? Right. He’s got no money, so you might get $100/week for the next 10,000 years on a court approved payment plan. That’s not gonna make the law school loan payment get smaller.

    So who’s left? The owner of the Jeep. Who will then have to sue the dealership for recovery of damages. Of course now we’re back to binding arbitration, but now you get a whole new set of lawyers to feed.

    Seems like this is the sort of thing that was made for OSHA, if OSHA was about workplace safety instead of checking boxes on forms. At least they should be able to fine the dealer for safety violations (training employees is big part of safety), which opens the door for civil cases. But there’s no way they’d get their hands dirty in this sort of case, especially since they might lose. If OSHA would take any action it would probably be just to issue more fatwas that paper over the real problem of poor training and incompentent employees.

    • “Now the family of the deceased has a pretty good case for wrongful death in the workplace due to hazardous working conditions, but that’s probably locked up in a boilerplate contract ….”

      No—the employer can’t be sued under the doctrine of “workers compensation exclusive remedy” which pretty much every state has adopted. Basically, Work-Comp is a Faustian trick, wherein the government protects employers from liability, in exchange for the “requirement” that they carry “Work-Comp Insurance”. This was sold to the dumb masses as protection of the workers, but really all it does is doom the workers to cut-rate bare-mimimum medical services form a network of shifty providers who are willing to pretend to treat patients in exchange for some nominal fees from the insurance company. Work-Comp benefits do not provide for any so-called “general” or “non-economic damages” (typically known as “pain & suffering”). And “pain-&-suffering” is where plaintiffs’ lawyers actually make money, since all the “economic damages” actually have to be paid back to the health insurance company who paid for the treatment, giving them a “lien”.

      That’s why plaintiffs’ lawyers wind up searching far and wide for some sad-sack they can try to saddle with the “pain & suffering”. No matter how tenuous and attenuated such responsibiity might be, the plaintiffs’ lawyer takes a shot, hoping at the very least to get a nuisane settlement out of the poor target who gets sued out of nowhere. After all, the target is covered by homeowners or auto insurance for the bill, so no harm no foul! It’s all in good fun!

  11. This is why I NEVER have dealers do ANY work on my car unless it is factory warranty work paid for by the company. Period.

    I do EVERYTHING myself except for tires (because I don’t have a tire machine). Even then I take the wheels off the car and bring them to the tire shop because I don’t want the tire shop retards driving my car, stripping the wheel studs, damaging the hub caps, or over-torquing the lug nuts.

    I have even done front-wheel alignments myself (quite successfully, I might add). I have built engines, disassembled and repaired transmissions, and replaced steering racks. Brakes and exhaust are common maintenance for me.

    Most dealerships charge stupid money for labor, hourly rates of $120 an hour and up. And often they assign some 19-year-old moron making $14 an hour to change the oil on your $60,000 vehicle. No thanks, pal. A relative once took an almost new car to a dealer for an oil change, and the idiots only put two quarts into it (it took five). Thankfully no damage was done but he almost shit himself when he got home and checked the dipstick and nothing showed on it. Turns out the dealer retards never bothered to check the dipstick after they had “filled” it with one of those bulk oil guns and it was three quarts low.

    I can get OEM factory-brand filters at Wally for $4 each, and full synthetic oil for $20 a jug. I’ll change my own oil, thanks.

    Are there good mechanics at dealerships? Sure there are, but the probability of you getting one is like playing roulette.

  12. It is the purpose of lawyers to take the reasonable and make it unreasonable.

    But it seems the root of the problem is that businesses paid off politicians to shield them from liability. America is a system of regulatory fascism couched in “land of the free” rhetoric.

    This is what you get when you vote for and allow dim-witted, slimy, narcissists to run & hold office without fear of tar & feathers.

  13. The original owner of the automobile, the auto manufacturer, is also responsible since they handed the keys to the buyer.

    The lawyer needs to sue the manufacturer that built the car, do it for a shitload of money.

    The owner of the presidential limousine, the fed gov, is responsible for President Kennedy’s death.

    Should be worth a few hundred billion in a wrongful death lawsuit.

  14. Get a jury trial and take out ads, put up billboards, and shout over a megaphone from the rooftops, “Jury Nullification!”

    Gee, I wonder if the owner is liable for damage caused by a car thief who steals his car? Guess I’d better check the laws in Kentucky…

    • Unfortunately, in virtually ANY state, the owner of a vehicle IS legally responsible for what damage a car thief does if he jacks the ride. And you might want to check the “fine print” on your auto policy about coverage for “permissive” drivers. It might simply require that if your ride is stolen and something happens, that you’ve filed a police report. Fine and good if you want the bozo thrown in the clink; he obviously deserves it. But what if, say, you’ve lent your college-age son your car, he’s at West Bumfuk U with his coed g/f, and when she thinks he’s eyeing “Suzy”, she gets pissed, takes the keys and drives off with YOUR car, and wrecks it and runs over and MAIMS, but doesn’t kill, the 3-y.o. daughter of a mixed-race couple? Welcome to the ranks of the “fucked”.

  15. A judge with a spine would say “this is pure bullshit”, and dispose of the case. Which to my mind is one of the primary purpose of having judges. Not just to interpret the law, but call it out when it’s unjust. The owner has zero liability. They had a more than reasonable expectation that those handling their car were capable.
    If a company hires a crane operator that has never operated one before, and they drop a 30 ton load, killing a dozen people, the company has no liability?

  16. So by law, one is essentially prevented from having any work done on their car at a dealership. Not necessarily a bad thing. Since it encourages going to a small independent shop where you can vet the half dozen or so mechanics yourself, which likely includes one or more owners of the business. But precludes you from getting work done that’s exclusive to the dealership, as in software, or even keys.
    So apparently, the solution to vaccine damage is you can sue yourself, because you let them give you one.

    • Hi NothingToLose,

      I agree. Were I the owner of the vehicle in question and subject to financial ruin because some law/lawyer was gaming the system to filch my pockets on account of something someone else did over which I could not have reasonably been expected to exert any due diligence to prevent, I think accounts would have to be settled.

      • OK, please stop. Here it is straight, just read to the end:

        https://news.yahoo.com/michigan-car-owner-sued-jeep-075228792.html

        “According to a summary filed in court on March 1, the court has ordered the Rochester Hills Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership, where the incident occurred, to indemnify Diaz-Navarro if he is found liable of negligence.

        “So in reality, the owner is going to be held responsible, but the dealership’s insurance company is paying,” Femminineo told McClatchy News. He said he hopes a verdict in excess of $15 million is awarded.”

        Read that over and over until you see how justice IS being served (against the dealership) despote the Workers Comp bar. This is clever lawyering giving the rigged system that screwed the injured AND the owner.

        • Hi Anon,

          Well, that’s fine – about the court ordering indemnification in this particular case. It does not change the law on the books or the prospect of innocent people being sued and having to deal with the cost and the stress that accompanies such. That was the point I was trying to make.

        • That might have been exactly what the sharp lawyer that filed the case against the owner of the car intended. Did that party have $15 million, or even $15,000? Probably not, and he didn’t care, he knew WHERE the money was (i.e, the dealership insurance company). It’s a dirty trick to get just compensation for the “injured” party (in that sad case, about as “injured” as it gets), since a common-sense reading of the laws applicable would not assign liability to the owner, who’s doing a lawful and reasonably prudent thing, i.e, having “professional” maintenance done on his vehicle. That the dealer rendered said maintenance in an obviously incompetent, if not downright FRAUDULENT manner, should put the onus on THEM, not the car owner.

    • Indeed Nothing to Lose, I don’t expect much change in our trajectory without it. Things are going to get ugly.

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