Massachusetts Appeals Court Reviews How Far Accountability Reaches for Wrongful Death Actions

Recently, the appellate court of Massachusetts reviewed an appeal from the parents of a deceased delivery driver who was murdered while working for a Domino’s franchise. In the case, Lind v. Domino’s Pizza LLC (14-P-928) the parents appealed the trial court’s decision to dismiss the claims against the pizza corporation after considering its eleventh-hour motion for summary judgment. The case discusses how far liability extends and the legal concept of agency, which often plays into personal injury and wrongful death cases.

When determining whether a person’s injury or death was due to the negligence of another, the courts look at whether a duty, created by law, was owed to the person, whether there was a breach of that duty, whether the breach caused the alleged injury or death, and whether damages were incurred. Sometimes people are injured or hurt by another person who was working for a company when the injury occurred. For example, if an employee was responsible for cleaning up spills in a grocery store but failed to do so, the employee would be the immediate person responsible for any injuries sustained by a customer who slips and falls on the spill. However, the employer is also accountable for the injuries sustained because the employee was acting on behalf of the company, or as an agent.

In Lind, the question comes up about how far this logic extends as far as liability is concerned under civil law. Popular chain restaurants are often franchises, in which an individual or group purchases the rights or ability to use the logo, menu, and recipes of an established brand but holds the majority of the day-to-day responsibilities of running the store. The murdered employee worked for a franchisee of the Domino’s Pizza brand. As part of the wrongful death action, the administrator of the estate filed a wrongful death action against several parties, including the murderer and the pizza franchisor.

As the basis for the suit against Domino’s, the administrator pointed to the franchise agreement under which the franchisee, or the deceased employee’s immediate boss, would be bound by the operational standards set forth by Domino’s. The Appeals Court looked to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case of Dapianti v. Jan-Pro Franchising Intl, Inc., 465 Mass. 607 (2013), which held that the franchisor-franchisee relationship does not instantly create vicarious liability. Dapianti explicitly holds that franchisors are “vicariously liable only when the franchisor controls or has a right to control the specific policy or practice resulting in harm to the plaintiff.” When the Appeals Court applied the Dapianti test, they ultimately concluded that Domino’s had no control or right to control the specific policy or practice that resulted in the harm to the deceased delivery driver. The decision of the trial court was upheld, affirming the dismissal of the lawsuit against the pizza corporation.

The Massachusetts personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to pursue all avenues of legal relief. As Lind shows, attempts to hold multiple parties accountable for an injury or death can be difficult and challenging. Our office will work tirelessly to maximize the monetary damages you may be able to receive. For a consultation, call our office at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Court Keeps Premises Liability Case Law Favorable for Injured Individuals, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 26, 2015
The Path to Damages after a Massachusetts Car Accident Can be a Complex, Winding One, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 22, 2015