Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court Motion to Amend Decision in Florida Car Dealership Liability Case

Recently, the district court of appeals for the State of Florida Fourth District issued an opinion in an appeal involving a negligence claim by the appellee, the plaintiff, against the appellant, Napleton’s North Palm Auto Park, Inc., (the Dealership). The plaintiff sued the Dealership after an employee (Employee) of the Dealership hit the plaintiff’s parked car while allegedly intoxicated during his shift, alleging negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of the Dealership’s employee. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend her complaint to add a punitive damages claim.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and the Employee were both employed by the Dealership. The Employee maintains that on the day of the alleged incident, he had “a couple drinks” while on his lunch break at home before he returned to work. That evening the Employee “brushed” alongside the plaintiff’s parked car as he was moving his car from an employee lot across the street to a closer parking lot. The Employee was later arrested and would enter a guilty plea to a DUI charge and his employment was terminated on the day of the accident.

The plaintiff then sued the Dealership for negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of the Employee. She alleged that the Dealership knew or should have known that the Employee had been found guilty of a DUI offense prior to hiring him, and the Dealership knew or should have known that the Employee consumed alcohol during work hours. The plaintiff then moved to amend her complaint, adding a claim for punitive damages. In doing so, she highlighted three events to establish the Dealership’s knowledge of the Employee’s history of driving while intoxicated: (1) the Employee’s prior DUI conviction in 2006; (2) the Dealership’s discipline of the Employee in January 2020 based on another employee’s suspicion of the Employee being intoxicated while on the clock; and (3) the assistant manager’s observation that the Employee was acting “off” and “loopy.”

The plaintiff argued that the platform manager of the Dealership, the Employee’s service manager, and the assistant service manager all knew of the incidents, and instead of terminating the Employee, they merely gave him a warning with no additional consequences. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion to amend, and the Dealership appealed.

On appeal, the Dealership argued that the trial court erred in finding that the plaintiff’s proffer reasonably showed the Dealership had notice that the Employee was intoxicated during working hours, and as a result, that the Dealership was “grossly negligent” in its retention and supervision of the Employee. The appeals court agreed with the appeal, finding that the three managers that the plaintiff relied on in the proffer were not “managing agents” of the Dealership as required by the statute. As a result, the appellate court ruled that the trial court erred in granting the plaintiff’s motion.

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