Our client was 75 years when her stopped vehicle was struck in the rear by a vehicle driven by Kenneth Rizzo (which was owned by Shawn George). At impact, Defendant Rizzo admitted to travelling approximately 25 to 35 mph. The force of the collision forced our client’s vehicle into the rear of a vehicle in front of our client’s vehicle. The force of the collision caused our client’s knees to slam against the dashboard.
In addition to these knee injuries, she suffered injuries to her right and left shoulders and neck area. She was diagnosed with strains and sprains. The trauma, however, triggered rheumatoid arthritis. Our client was placed on Prednisone and Methotrexate, medications that have as a side effect the reduction of the body’s ability to resist infection.
Four months later she was admitted to Abington Hospital with pneumonia and eventually died. Baratta, Russell & Baratta (BRB) was prepared to proceed at trial with an expert rheumatologist to connect the trauma suffered in the motor vehicle accident to our client’s death.
Initially, this case was filed as a Wrongful Death and Survival Action against solely the driver and owner of the rear-ending motor vehicle. In responding to Interrogatories, the driver of the vehicle, Kenneth Rizzo, indicated that he was employed as a service advisor for Marty Sussman Honda and that at the time of the accident, the purpose of his trip was “Completing state inspection. Bringing to the owner.” BRB thereafter brought a Wrongful Death and Survival Action against Defendant, Marty Sussman Motors, Inc., in Montgomery County alleging that Kenneth Rizzo was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time that the accident occurred and that Marty Sussman was responsible in damages per the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Testimony at Trial determined that Kenneth Rizzo had brought his uncle, Shawn George’s, car to Marty Sussman to have a state inspection performed that day. After the state inspection was performed, he was returning the vehicle to Mr. George. Rizzo had picked up the car and was returning the car at a location other than Rizzo’s home. Rizzo also claimed that he had finished working that day when he was returning the vehicle to his uncle. BRB presented evidence that Rizzo was furthering the business of the employer at the time of the accident and therefore was in the course and scope of employment.
What was established at Trial was that Marty Sussman had in place a long standing policy which encouraged employees to drive vehicles of friends and family to the dealership and back to the friend or family from the dealership following the completion of service work. Friends or family would receive a discounted rate for labor and potentially a discounted rate for parts but that Marty Sussman would also make a profit and benefit by the purchase of extra services, such as warranties, and the referral of additional business. Kenneth Rizzo’s boss, Kevin Miller, called this long standing company policy a “perk”. It was well known by Defendant, Marty Sussman, that the employees would drive the vehicles of friends and family to and from the dealership as part of the overall service provided. Sussman did not have in place any valet service for regular customers and it was admitted at trial that the friends and family plan was a de facto valet service plan.
The Defendants’ position was that Mr. Rizzo was merely going home, using his uncle’s vehicle as his means of transportation and was merely doing his uncle a favor by transporting it back and forth.
Judge Clyde Waite determined in a non-jury trial that defendant, Kenneth Rizzo was furthering the business interests of Sussman and therefore in the course and scope of employment for defendant, Marty Sussman.
Result – Total $300,000
$200,000 – Automobile insurance policy limits – Kenneth M. Rizzo and Shawn G. George
$100,000 – Marty Sussman Motors, Inc.
Attorney – Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta, Russell & Baratta