What is your corporate policy on delivery drivers? If you’re about to say, “We leave it up to the franchisees,” you may have a $32 million problem on your hands.
That’s how much a jury awarded a family whose relatives were killed in an accident caused by a Domino’s delivery driver in 2012. The delivery driver was cited for speeding, and he drove on worn tires; one was bald. He hydroplaned into oncoming traffic, killing a 65-year-old woman and leaving her 70-year-old husband with a permanent traumatic brain injury. The settlement was later overturned by justices in an appeal court, after the victim’s brother had been awarded $6 million in a pre-trial settlement.
“Based on the record before us, we conclude that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the jury’s finding that Domino’s controlled or had the right to control the details of the injury-producing acts or omissions of [the franchisee] and its employees,” the court’s opinion stated.
The attorney who represented Domino’s during the appeal pointed out that the company’s handbook does not have specific rules on inspecting driver’s vehicles. So, by the letter of the law, Domino’s was not liable. However, that reasoning only goes so far on a human level. The public expects more, as evidenced by the initial verdict.
Why weren’t there corporate rules on driver safety? Why weren’t they enforced?
Auditing Drivers Can Save Lives
Vehicles associated with your brand are moving billboards. While food delivery companies can’t take ownership of vehicles used by franchisees—nor can they tell franchisees whom to hire—they can create an enforceable policy on vehicle safety. Just like a franchisee has a responsibility to report sales and set up promotional materials, they would also report the status of vehicles.
The franchisee would use a simple question/answer checklist covering four key areas.
- Does the vehicle have a good general appearance?
- Are the bumpers present and acceptable?
- Are the windshield wipers operable?
- Are external mirrors in place and adjusted?
- Is the license tag present and valid?
- Do the brakes work?
- Are tires in good condition?
- Do the tires have tread?
- Are rims present?
- Do the headlights work?
- Do turn signals work?
- Do back-up lights work?
- Do emergency flashers/hazards work?
- Does interior lighting work?
- Are seatbelts present and operable?
- Is the rearview mirror present?
- Are the windows clear of objects?
- Does the horn work?
The audit would account for both esthetics and safety/regulatory aspects. It would require driver participation and take just a few minutes to complete. The franchise owner should also be guided on what to do if an answer comes back “no” during the audit. For instance, if the driver’s seatbelt is missing, the brakes aren’t working, or headlights are out, this car shouldn’t be on the road.
If the car is dirty on the outside or the car has a cracked rim, the franchisee may make the determination that the car may be driven that night. However, the driver—who typically has the responsibility to repair their own vehicle—would be given a timeframe before the next audit to repair the car. If a franchisee is not compliant in submitting audit results, it would then be the corporation’s responsibility to take action.
Establishing the framework to audit franchisee vehicles will require the help of an attorney. Franchisees’ rights would have to be clearly stated. However, an attorney’s fees are worth it if it will spare the organization millions of dollars in legal settlements and negativity publicity.
Having a mobile auditing tool will help centralize the process for both franchisees and the parent company. When safety is a shared responsibility, why not share the same view on operational tasks?