If a pizza delivery driver causes a traffic accident in Florida, the employer can be legally responsible if the driver was acting as an employee at the time of the accident. This is known in the law as “acting in the course and scope of employment.” Employers like Dominos, Pizza Hut, or KFC maintain multi-million dollar insurance policies to cover such incidents. However, one of the most common defenses utilized by their insurance companies is to argue that the employee/driver was acting “outside” his employment at the time. This can happen, for instance, if the driver goes off the prescribed route, is texting or chatting on a cellphone, or making unapproved stops to purchase gum, cigarettes, or–in the worst-case scenario–alcohol.
Acting in the Course and Scope of Employment
The issue of whether or not the driver was in fact “on the clock” at the time of the wreck can make a tremendous difference in terms of compensation for a seriously injured accident victim, because most of the people delivering FEDEX or UPS packages, pizza, or Chinese food carry little or no insurance on their own and lack the financial means to compensate an accident victim.
If you have been in an accident caused by a delivery driver, contact our office today for a free initial legal consultation at 866-597-4529 or email me, Spencer Aronfeld.
For this very reason, a given driver’s status at the time of a crash often results in protracted litigation and a trial. Recently, a case arose from a car accident of a Broward County Florida woman, Sandra Faraldo, who was hit by pizza delivery man, Geoffrey Choy, who was employed by Vocelli Pizza. The pizzeria denied that Mr. Choy was acting as their employee at the time of the crash. Ms. Faraldo claimed that as a result of the impact, she was permanently injured and unable to work ever again.
The case went to trial. At the closing argument, the pizzeria’s lawyer pulled out a Sports Illustrated cover photograph of my University of Miami classmate Marc Buonicotti, who was rendered a paraplegic after a football accident while playing for The Citadel, to suggest that even a paraplegic can still find gainful employment. This apparently was done in an attempt to prejudice the jury against Ms. Faraldo, who was claiming to be disabled. Ms. Faraldo’s lawyers objected to the use of the photograph in closing argument.
The jury returned a finding that Mr. Choy was not acting in the “course and scope of employment” at the time of the crash, and awarded the plaintiff far less money than she had asked for. The trial judge then ordered a new trial on both the issue of the driver’s employment status as well as the amount of the verdict.
Appeal in Delivery Driver Accident Case
An appeal followed to the 4th District Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over Broward County car accident cases like this. The Appellate Court upheld the trial judge’s order on the new trial on damages, because it is felt that a trial judge has the best perspective on how damaging a given inflammatory statement or action is rather than an appellate court, which is limited to just the cold transcripts of a trial. However, the court reversed the trial judge’s order of a new trial on the issue of whether or not the pizza delivery driver was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time since it felt that the photograph of Mr. Buoniconti in no way affected that issue.
I find the court’s reasoning to be inconsistent in this opinion, but that probably won’t make much difference to the plaintiff in the end. First, the court claims on the one hand that the trial judge who heard the statements being made at the time was in the best position to evaluate the effect they had on the jury and was therefore correct in ordering a new trial, but on the other hand the court ignored that same rationale in reversing the order of the new trial on the issue of employment–which could have a huge impact on the plaintiff’s actually collecting any judgment. You can read the entire opinion here.
$6 Million Verdict Awarded, But Still Cannot Collect
I have tried a number of such cases, including one where my client obtained a verdict of nearly $6 million, but have never been able to collect. This is particularly true in most medical malpractice cases in Florida, since doctors are permitted to practice without malpractice insurance. In many cases, the verdict is not as important the ability to collect. Otherwise, the verdict is worth only the paper it is printed on, and sometimes less if the defendant decides to declare bankruptcy, thereby discharging the entire debt.
Our office has been representing injured accident victims and their families across the State of Florida for nearly 25 years. Let us utilize our experience and tenacity to assist you. If you have been involved in a car, truck, motorcycle, or bicycle accident in Florida caused by a delivery driver, contact our office today for a free legal consultation. We are available by phone at 305-441-0440, Toll Free at 866-587-4529, or email me, Spencer Aronfeld.