Car Owner Sued by Passengers of Car Thief After Accident

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by | Dec 12, 2011 | Auto Accidents

Lawsuits often arise out of car accidents. People sustain injuries in a crash and need to seek compensation from the person or people responsible. Typically the responsible person is the driver at fault in the accident. Sometimes it is the auto manufacturer if the car had some defect or flaw that caused or contributed to the accident. Sometimes, the injured parties decide to sue everyone in sight, with surprising results. This is what happened to 89 year-old Oregon resident George Hinnenkamp, whose car was stolen and crashed, and who then became the subject of a lawsuit over that crash.

In June 2009, Hinnenkamp was returning to his Lorane Valley home after a trip into town, only to find his 1991 Thunderbird was missing. He reported the car stolen and waited. That night, he received a call from Oregon State Police telling him that his car had been wrecked in an accident involving alcohol. He also learned that the car thief, 35 year-old Joseph Dinwiddie, was someone he occasionally tapped for odd jobs. Dinwiddie went to prison, where he remains today, for driving while intoxicated, two counts of third-degree assault for the injuries to his passengers, and several other charges.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. This past summer, the now 91 year-old Hinnenkamp learned that the two passengers from the night of his car’s joyride had filed suit against both him and the incarcerated car thief, claiming $145,000 and $75,000 in damages, respectively. One plaintiff, Delano Oscar, claims “sprains or strains” in his back, neck, and elsewhere. In addition to $1,000 in medical bills, he is seeking $48,000 in non-economic damages, which usually refers to compensation for a plaintiff’s pain and suffering. The other plaintiff, Nicole Cunningham, claims similar injuries as well as pelvic fractures, headaches, and dizziness. She is demanding $20,000 in medical bills plus $125,000 in non-economic damages.

The passengers allege in their lawsuits that, on the night of the crash, Dinwiddie was acting as Hinnenkamp’s employee and had Hinnenkamp’s permission to use the car. This issue had apparently come up during the criminal investigation and prosecution of the theft and crash. Hinnenkamp had told investigators that he had occasionally allowed Dinwiddie to use the car while performing odd jobs. Even Dinwiddie reportedly told police that night that he did not have permission to use the vehicle. The issue of whether Dinwiddie was performing job duties the night of the accident still does not explain the presence of alcohol.

The precise theory of liability against Hinnenkamp is not clear from media coverage. It is tempting to write this case off as a joke, but a good personal injury lawyer works tirelessly to find a liable party who can compensate the client’s injuries. If Dinwiddie really did have permission to use the car and was operating it as Hinnenkamp’s employee, then Hinnenkamp could be liable for the actions of his employee carried out as part of his employment. Again, this does not explain the presence of alcohol, or many of the circumstances of the crash. The reality probably has more to do with the fact that Hinnenkamp reportedly has insurance coverage, while Dinwiddie is in prison. Hinnenkamp’s insurance has already denied liability, so the plaintiffs may ultimately have to look elsewhere for relief.

Kansas City auto accident attorney Doug Horn advocates safe driving and represents the rights of people who have suffered injuries in auto accidents. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (816) 795-7500.