Court: Seaford truck dealer not liable for employee’s action

 

DOVER — A Sussex County truck dealer can’t be held liable for the actions of a service manager who allegedly injured a man during a dispute over a Peterbuilt last year, according to a court order.

Robert A. James Jr. filed a lawsuit against Seaford-based Pete Store seeking punitive damages after its employee supposedly chased him down on April 21, 2016, regarding a check for repairs that hadn’t been certified.

Mr. James claimed he was injured during a confrontation and sought compensatory and punitive damages.

In a 10-page order issuing a partial summary judgment for the defendants, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clark determined that the employee’s duties did not rise to a supervisory level with any authority that could tie the business to being responsible for punitive damages.

“There are no facts in the record than this title that could lead to (an inference) that Mr. Williams had any authority beyond what is typically given to a clerical position at an ordinary repair shop,” Judge Clark found.

According to the facts of the case gathered during discovery, Mr. Clark supposedly left the business in his son’s truck after providing a $17,298.52 check for the cost of repairs.

“Pete Store alleges that Mr. James was unhappy with how long it took the repairs to be completed,” Judge Clark wrote in the opinion.

“Based on the parties’ history, (the employee) was eager to get Mr. James out of the shop as quickly as possible. At some point, Mr. James became irritated that his check was taking a long time to process.

“He accordingly left the store and took the truck. Mr. James alleges that he informed (the employee) that he was leaving with the truck and to call him if there were any problems.”

When the payment could not be certified, according to the contentions, the employee got into his personal vehicle and caught Mr. James, who pulled the truck onto a highway median.

“Despite demand, Mr. James refused to return to the store because he needed to return the truck to his son,” according to the contentions in court documents.

“Mr. James told (the employee) that he could call him if there were any problems with his check because he had more than sufficient funds in his account to cover the check.”

The employee then supposedly tried to force Mr. James back to the store, reaching into his vehicle, grabbing his cell phone and returning to his car, court papers indicated.

“Mr. James then approached (the employee’s) car to recover his cell phone,” the order read. “While the facts about what happened next remain in dispute, for the purposes of summary judgment, as Mr. James reached into (the employee’s) vehicle to retrieve his phone, (the employee) recklessly pulled away with Mr. James caught on the outside of the vehicle.

“Mr. James suffered injuries as a result.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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