Court finds a Jiffy Lube management company liable in 2015 crash, awards $6M in damages

A Jiffy Lube franchise management company has been ordered to pay over $6 million in damages for its role in an I-15 crash in Davis County involving a company employee that left a Utah man with permanent injuries.

A Jiffy Lube franchise management company has been ordered to pay over $6 million in damages for its role in an I-15 crash in Davis County involving a company employee that left a Utah man with permanent injuries. (Colter Peterson, Deseret News )

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FARMINGTON — A Jiffy Lube franchise management company has been ordered to pay over $6 million in damages for its role in a vehicle crash involving a company employee that left a Utah man with permanent injuries.

Second District Judge Michael D. DiReda oversaw a trial in which a jury awarded the plaintiffs, a husband and wife, $2.5 million, including $2 million in punitive damages, as well as post-judgment interest and costs incurred during the case. The husband was also awarded $113,625.64 in incurred economic damages; $2.3 million in future economic damages; $1.2 million in noneconomic damages; and $28,577 in prejudgment interest.

In all, the damages total $6,142,202.64.

Records filed in Farmington's 2nd District Court on July 18 show that both Lube Management Corp. and Mighty Auto Parts, which also operates under the name Partsco L.C., were found liable for negligent employment and loss of consortium. Co-defendant Shanice Christy Burch, the management company driver involved in the crash, was also found liable for negligence and loss of consortium, court records show.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a press release that Lube Management Corp. oversees staffing for 64 of Jiffy Lube's locations in Utah.

The crash occurred on Jan. 23, 2015, according to a civil complaint filed in December 2018. It names only the husband as the plaintiff, but an amended complaint filed in December 2019 names his wife, as well.

The complaint states that the husband was driving north on I-15 in Davis County near West Bountiful when Burch, who was driving a Lube Management Corp. vehicle in the third lane, "suddenly turned fast into the second lane, and then into the plaintiff's lane, cutting him off."

The husband swerved to avoid hitting Burch but couldn't go any further without driving off the road, the complaint states. He slammed the brakes and Burch hit the front of his car; then she "fled the scene of the accident in an attempt to avoid responsibility," it said.

Burch was criminally charged with unsafe lane travel, a class C misdemeanor, and forfeited her $150 bail on March 4, 2015, court records show. Utah treats a voluntary bail forfeiture as a guilty conviction and the complaint states that she admitted guilt.

The husband suffered a broken back, injuries to his knees and pelvis, and now lives with "permanent, life-altering" back injuries and chronic pain, the complaint states. His physical health, mental health and quality of life have all been "significantly impacted," and he's lost wages from his injuries which made him unable to work, it continues.

The wife is also entitled to damages, the complaint states, because the accident caused the loss of her husband's companionship, affection and aid.

One of plaintiffs' attorneys, Jeff Steele, said in a news release that he's "extremely proud" of the jury in this case and that the verdict "shows Utahns take safety on our public roads very seriously."

Justin Hosman, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said the case took 3½ years to resolve because COVID-19 "stopped jury trials in their tracks."

Lube Management Corp. was negligent, the complaint states, by not appropriately training employees; by failing to ensure that its drivers are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and by not properly supervising employees, among other reasons.

Burch held a Utah or other driver's license at the time of the accident, the complaint states. But Hosman said the officer who responded to the scene doesn't remember if he checked her license. An accident report, however, does record the class of the license and a driving restriction.

Additionally, he said Lube Management Corp., contrary to its own policies, did not have copies of Burch's license, car insurance and driving record on file.

The complaint also alleges that Burch was driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the accident. After the crash, her employer asked her to take a drug test. "She failed the drug test by failing and/or refusing to provide a urine sample on three separate occasions," the complaint states.

When considering punitive damages, however, jurors concluded that there was not a preponderance of evidence to find that Burch had been driving under the influence, nor that her actions manifested a knowing and reckless indifference toward others. But the jury did conclude in a special verdict form that the actions of Lube Management and PartsCo "manifested a knowing and reckless indifference toward, and disregard of, the rights of others, including Tim Symes."

Hosman said that Burch admitted during a deposition that she used methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol on weekends, and sometimes on weekdays "if it's someone's birthday."

Court records show that Burch has never been charged with any drug-related offenses. However, prior to the January 2015 crash, court records show she was charged twice for driving with an expired license, once in June 2012 and once in February 2014. Each was a class C misdemeanor and she forfeited bail on both.

Additionally, court records show that another civil complaint was filed against her in March 2019 by a plaintiff claiming that in April 2015, Burch crashed into the rear of his car while he was stopped at a red light on southbound Redwood Road.

The complaint in that case stated that Burch was negligent for driving too fast, failing to keep a lookout, following other cars too closely and not maintaining control of her vehicle, among other reasons. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries to his neck, back and knees, among others, it continues.

The parties ultimately resolved the issue outside of court and the case was dismissed in September 2020, records show.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly described Burch as a Jiffy Lube driver instead of a Lube Management driver and incorrectly indicated the husband and wife were awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages. The husband was awarded $2 million in punitive damages and the wife received a $500,000 judgment.

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