Here’s an article from The San Diego Union-Tribune, By Greg Moran , UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER, reaffirming the importance of background checks on employees and what it could cost a company not to do so.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:10 p.m.
SAN DIEGO COURTS — A San Diego Superior Court jury on Wednesday awarded a mother and her adult daughter $10.8 million in damages for the injuries they suffered in a car crash with a Pizza Hut delivery driver in Clairemont.
The jury said that Shari Novak, who was 62 when the November 2008 collision occurred, should receive $8.6 million for medical and noneconomic damages. She suffered permanent brain damage and can no longer take care of herself on a daily basis.
Her mother, Olena Novak, who was 87 when the crash happened, suffered a broken neck and other injuries and was awarded nearly $2.2 million by the jury.
The Novaks were driving on Clairemont Drive near Ute Drive when a car driven by Nicole Fisk crossed into oncoming traffic and slammed into their car. She was 18 at the time.
Lawyers for the Novaks argued that Pizza Hut was responsible for the collision because they hired Fisk, who had a driver’s license for only three months and had a history of suffering blackout spells and staring episodes.
The company should have done more to check her background and assure that she could work safely as a driver, argued John Gomez, the lawyer for Shari Novak.
But James Yukevich, a lawyer for the California-based Pizza Hut Inc., said that the company should not be to blame because Fisk had a valid license, insurance and was subjected to a background check.
Yukevich said during the trial that Fisk was not formally diagnosed with epilepsy until after the accident, and that the crash occurred when she suffered an unforeseeable medical emergency.
Such a sudden medical emergency can be used as a defense to a negligence lawsuit under state law.
But jurors rejected that claim. After the verdict, juror Joshua Pingel said that he believed Fisk should have known she could have a blackout episode because of her medical history.
While the jury did not find Pizza Hut negligent in hiring her, it did conclude the company is responsible for damages because Fisk was their employee at the time.
Fisk, who suffered minor injuries in the collision, was initially named in the personal-injury lawsuit but was later dropped from the case.
Gomez said the money awarded by the jury will take care of Shari Novak’s past medical bills and provide for her future needs.
He said the verdict should send a signal to other companies “to be a little more careful when hiring professional drivers.”
Yukevich did not know if the company would appeal the verdict.