Course and scope of employment disputed in wrongful death case. $4M. Ventura County.

Summary

Auto salesman comes in to the dealership on his day off to take care of a customer.

The Case

  • Case Name: Schweissinger v. Crown Dodge
  • Court and Case Number: Ventura Superior Court / 56-2019-00524183-CU-PA-VTA
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, October 21, 2022
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, January 24, 2019
  • Type of Action: Course and scope of employment, Highlighted Verdicts, Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Jeffrey Bennett
  • Plaintiffs:
    Donna Schweissinger
    Taryn Schweissinger
    Taylor Schweissinger
  • Defendants:
    Crown Dodge
    Aaron Lane
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $4,000,000. The jury returned with a verdict finding that Aaron Lane was in the course and scope of his employment with Crown Dodge at the time of the accident.
  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $4,000,000

    Wife Donna: $1,000,000 in past non-economic damages and $1,000,000 in future non-economic damages.

    Daughter Taryn: $500,000 in past non-economic damages and $500,000 in future non-economic damages.

    Daughter Taylor: $500,000 in past non-economic damages and $500,000 in future non-economic damages.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 9 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Chang Klein LLP by Deborah S. Chang, Candice S. Klein, Sarah S. Kim and Patrick K. Gunning, El Segundo.

     Berglund & Johnson Law Group by Daniel W. Johnson, Woodland Hills.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Daniels, Fine, Israel, Schonbuch & Lebovits, LLP by Michael Schonbuch and Karina A. Villa, Los Angeles. (For Crown Dodge)

    Macdonald & Cody by Joseph Fitzgerald, Irvine. (For Aaron Lane)

     

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    No experts were called at trial.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    No experts were called at trial.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    No experts were called at trial.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    No experts were called at trial.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On Tuesday, June 26, 2018 defendant Aaron Lane was on his day off from his job as an Internet Sales Manager at defendant Crown Dodge. He was visiting Ventura State Beach with his girlfriend and dog when, at around noon, he received a call on his cell phone from a co-worker letting him know his customers were picking up a car Lane had ordered for them. Mr. Lane chose to leave the beach and go to the dealership, and as he was leaving he called his customer to let him know he would meet him at the dealership. While driving to the dealership from the beach, Mr. Lane struck and killed plaintiffs' decedent, Jeffrey Schweissinger, age 62.

    After the collision, Mr. Lane called the dealership to inform them he would not be coming in. At the time of his death, Mr. Schweissinger was married to his wife Donna Schweissinger and had two adult 19-year-old twin daughters, all of whom lived with him at the time of his death. All parties stipulated that Aaron Lane was solely negligent in the operation of his vehicle, causing the death of Jeffrey Schweissinger.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That Aaron Lane was working within the course and scope of his employment with Crown Dodge. At trial, testimony revealed that if a salesperson does not complete their sale, they lose half their commission. It was common practice for on-duty salesmen to call off-duty salesmen if one of their customers came in to give them the opportunity to come in on their day off to get their full commission. Plaintiffs argued that this policy was known by management and owner Robert Crown and that once Aaron Lane accepted the mission to come in he was on the clock and running a special errand for Crown Dodge.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant Crown Dodge argued that Aaron Lane was merely commuting at the time of the collision and that the coming-and-going rule applied. They also argued that this could not be a business errand as Aaron Lane was not required to come into the dealership and was only coming in for his benefit, not the dealership’s. Defendant Aaron Lane argued that he had done everything he could to be a good salesman which included him coming in on his day off. 

Additional Notes

Plaintiffs only sought past and future non-economic damages for the loss of Jeffrey Schweissinger who was 62 at the time of his death and had a life expectancy of an additional 20.3 years. Decedent was survived by his wife, Donna Schweissinger who was 67 at the time of trial and his twin daughters Taylor and Taryn who were 23 at the time of trial.

Special Jury Instructions were provided based on Felix v. Assai (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 926; Morales-Simental v. Genentech, Inc. (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 445; Los Angeles Jewish Community Council v. Industrial Acc. Commission (1949) 94 Cal.App.2d 65 as agreed to by all parties.

 

Disclaimer

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