Orlando, FL— Domino’s Pizza was hit with an $8.97 million verdict Friday at trial over a 2011 crash that ultimately killed a former Florida fire chief. Wiederhold v. Domino’s Pizza, 2011-CA-001589.
Jurors in Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, in Orange County, deliberated about an hour before finding pizza delivery driver Jeffrey Kidd 100 percent responsible for the March 2011 wreck that rendered Richard Wiederhold a quadriplegic. Wiederhold, 62, a retired Brevard County fire chief, died from injury-related complications about a year after the crash.
Jurors concluded Kidd, and the Fischler Enterprises Domino’s franchise he worked for at the time of the crash, were agents of the larger Domino’s Pizza corporate franchisor, rendering the pizza giant, the case’s named defendant, liable.
Friday’s award includes $8 million to Wiederhold’s widow, Yvonne, and more than $970,000 in medical and other expenses.
During Friday’s closings, Yvonne Wiederhold’s attorney, Avera & Smith’s Mark Avera, requested about $12.97 million in damages.
The crash occurred when Wiederhold allegedly swerved to avoid colliding with Kidd’s car, which had pulled onto Florida’s State Road 50. Wiederhold, who was traveling in his truck with Yvonne, drove into the median and back across the roadway before his truck overturned.
Yvonne Wiederhold claims Kidd caused the wreck by pulling dangerously into Wiederhold’s path, and the three-day trial focused not only on what role Kidd played in the crash, but whether Domino’s was liable for his actions.
Domino’s contends that the franchise Kidd worked for was an independent business, and the larger corporation bore no responsibility for his conduct. During Friday’s closings, Rissman Barrett’s Richard Womble told jurors Domino’s had no control over the franchise’s day-to-day operations. Evidence, he said, showed the franchise retained control of hiring, supervising, and disciplining employees, among other business matters.
“And significantly, when the accident occurred, who did Mr. [Jarred] Fischler call? Did he call Domino’s Pizza, LLC?” Womble asked. “He didn’t report it to Domino’s Pizza, LLC. And Mr. Kidd told Mr. Fischler, his employer.”
Womble added that evidence showed Wiederhold, not Kidd, caused the crash. Womble walked jurors through testimony from accident reconstruction expert Don Fournier, who concluded that Wiederhold was speeding just before the wreck, and could have avoided the accident if he had been traveling at the speed limit and braked appropriately. “There was no need to swerve into the median,” Womble said.
But Avera told jurors Fournier’s conclusions rested on key assumptions regarding the location of Kidd’s car before it entered the travel lane. “[Fournier] conceded to our side that Ms. Wiederhold’s version of events fits if he moves Mr. Kidd’s vehicle,” Avera said. “That’s all it took.”
Avera added that Domino’s exerted a strict day-to-day control over the franchise that rendered it responsible for Kidd’s actions. He reminded jurors of evidence showing Domino’s had authority over issues ranging from employee uniforms and grooming standards to delivery vehicle appearance and equipment.
And Avera countered defense claims that those restrictions only existed to protect the corporation's brand. “It doesn’t matter why they have the right of control,” Avera said. “You won’t see an instruction on the law that says ‘Well, if the right of control is for brand, then they get a pass.'"
Friday’s verdict wraps the case's second trial. A 2016 verdict for the plaintiff was reversed last year by the state's Fifth District Court of Appeal, which ordered a new trial.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as necessary.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yvonne Wiederhold is represented by Avera & Smith’s Mark Avera, Benjamin Steinberg, and Alexandria Avera.
Domino’s Pizza is represented by Christine Zharova and Richard Womble of Rissman, Barrett, Hurt, Donahue, McClain & Mangan, P.A.
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