Phila. judge grants summary judgment to Enterprise in vehicle accident case

By Jon Campisi | Jul 16, 2013

A state judge has agreed to dismiss the rental car company Enterprise from a lawsuit

initiated by a husband and wife who say they sustained serious injuries after their vehicle was struck by a car operated by an intoxicated driver.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson, in a July 12 memorandum and order, agreed to dismiss Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Enterprise Holdings Inc. and Enterprise Leasing Co. of Norfolk/Richmond LLC from a civil action that had been initiated by Freddie Maisonet and Lourdes Chaparro.

Court records show that the Reading, Berks County couple filed suit in February 2012 against the Enterprise defendants, along with Peggy Jo Law, Cassaundra Page, Troichai Wilson, Jessica Hudson and Christina Mierzejewski, over a September 2011 motor vehicle accident.

The couple claims they were seriously hurt after their car was struck by a Kia Soul driven by an intoxicated Troichai Wilson about a week after Wilson’s mother, Cassaundra Page, gave the man permission to drive the vehicle.

On Sept. 2, 2011, Peggy Jo Law rented the Kia from an Enterprise location in Chester, Va. Page had accompanied Law to the Enterprise facility, at which time Page was listed as an additional authorized driver in the rental agreement, according to court records.

A week later, Wilson obtained his mother’s permission to drive the rental car to a party in Reading.

At about 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, Troichai was driving under the influence of alcohol when he crashed the Kia into the rear of the plaintiffs’ Chevy Blazer.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs set forth a variety of claims of direct and vicarious liability against the Enterprise defendants, including negligence, negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent retention and negligent supervision, the record shows.

In her memorandum and order, Massiah-Jackson wrote that none of the aforementioned theories could proceed unless Enterprise owed a duty to protect the plaintiffs from acts committed by a “third party stranger.”

And in the end, the judge, citing case law, determined that the rental agency didn’t owe a duty to protect the couple.

Massiah-Jackson cited a state Superior Court case in which the appellate judges affirmed a trial judge’s granting of summary judgment to the defense in litigation involving thieves who stole a vehicle from a car dealership and went on to injure a plaintiff during an accident.

In that case, titled Roche v. Ugly Duckling Car Sales Inc., the appeals panel determined that the dealership owed no duty of care to the injured party.

As in Roche, Massiah-Jackson determined that the plaintiffs and the Enterprise defendants were strangers to each other, and that Wilson, the drunk driver, had never signed the rental agreement nor was he designated as an additional authorized driver on the agreement.

“Where the parties are strangers to each other the scope of a general duty of care is limited to those risks which are reasonably foreseeable in the circumstances of the case,” Massiah-Jackson wrote. “Plaintiffs Maisonet and Chaparro have been unable to present anything in these facts which would have put the Enterprise Defendants on notice that Ms. Page would let an unauthorized driver use the car, or, that the unauthorized driver would be intoxicated and drive in a negligent manner.”

The plaintiffs had also suggested that Enterprise was negligent in renting the Kia to Law and permitting Page to be an additional authorized driver by failing to recognize false identification at the time the parties signed the rental agreement.

The judge, however, stated that the actions of Wilson, the drunk driver, were “so remote in the causal chain that Enterprise can not be held legally responsible as a matter of law.

“Even assuming that the Enterprise Defendants should have foreseen the likelihood that the Additional Authorized Driver would let her son drive the vehicle, nothing existed which put Enterprise on notice that the son would be an incompetent and intoxicated driver,” Massiah-Jackson wrote.

In addition to granting summary judgment to Enterprise, the judge also dismissed with prejudice all related claims and cross-claims in the litigation.

The docket sheet in the case shows that on July 10, two days prior to Massiah-Jackson’s order, fellow Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jacqueline Allen remanded the case to arbitration.

The record shows that the plaintiffs are being represented by Philadelphia attorney Robert F. Englert.

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