Pizza Hut Delivered a Dent in My Car, Then I Fought the Franchise

PHOTO: Terri Finley wrote in to the ABC News Fixer, saying her car was damaged by a Pizza Hut delivery person.

Dear ABC News Fixer: While stopped at a red light, I was rear-ended by a Pizza Hut delivery driver.

The driver was reaching for his water bottle when it happened, and he apologized for damaging my rear bumper and taillight. He gave me his personal insurance information, and I submitted a claim.

A couple of days later, his insurance agent said my claim is being denied because he was on the clock at work when the accident happened. She said it's up to his employer to provide collision coverage.

So I contacted the local Pizza Hut, but the manager said I would have to collect the damages from the driver, not them.

Should we all be terrified that delivery drivers can run into our vehicles, and we have to pay? Now I have to spend $719 to fix the damage to my vehicle and try to collect from the driver in small claims court.

- Terri Finley, Iowa City, Ia.

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

Dear Terri: By the time the ABC News Fixer looked into this, you had called Pizza Hut again and sent them two estimates for repairs. They had agreed to get back to you, but no one did.

When we asked Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr what gives, he said the case was stymied because there wasn’t a police report showing the exact time of the crash, which would determine whether the driver was clocked in or not. You said you hadn’t called the police because it was only a damaged bumper and taillight, but that based on the receipts from your previous errands and the time you arrived home from the accident, it was definitely after the driver’s start time.

In the end, Pizza Hut decided to pay the claim. They sent you a check for $719 and you got your car fixed.

But we wondered about the larger issue. Who is supposed to pay when a delivery driver hits a car?

While you were at that red light, you unwittingly stumbled into a situation that’s on the mind of lots of delivery drivers, be they carrying pizzas, dry cleaning, food, flowers, newspapers or anything else that needs delivering. Some are full-time employees driving a company car, but many others are considered to be independent contractors with their own vehicles and insurance coverage.

Either way, in a really bad accident, a victim and lawyer will usually go after the business as well as the driver, since the business is more likely to have money.

That means anyone who works as an independent delivery driver and is using his or her own vehicle needs to buy the proper insurance. Most insurers will refuse to pay a claim if the delivery driver hasn’t purchased special coverage for business use.

And small businesses who hire outside drivers really should purchase “non-owned” auto liability insurance – not just to protect the public but to protect themselves in case there’s a serious crash. If there’s heavy damage or expensive injuries, they can expect to get sued.

Terfehr said Pizza Hut drivers aren’t independent contractors; they work for either a franchise or the corporation, depending on the restaurant. They are, however, required to have their own insurance and it must meet the requirements of their state. If an accident occurs while on duty, the driver’s own insurer is supposed to handle the claim, but Pizza Hut has excess insurance as back-up in case there’s a problem. Those accidents are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Paul J. Molinaro, an attorney with Fransen & Molinaro LLP in California, says it’s important for accident victims to get a police report listing the delivery driver’s name, address and insurance company and to document the scene with lots of photos, including shots of the restaurant logo on the car, pizzas on the front seat and anything else that shows that the driver was working. It’s easy to do this at the scene with a smartphone.

Molinaro says that even with smaller cases like this, consumers shouldn’t try to contact a company over the phone. It’s better to put your claim in writing, with copies of the police report and repair estimates and a demand for a set amount of money by a certain date. The letter should be sent to the corporation’s registered agent, the corporation itself and the local franchise, by certified mail.

- The ABC News Fixer

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