Dealerships that don't carefully vet customers before giving them loaners run the risk of serious legal problems, as a Pleasanton, Texas, store has discovered.
The Texas Court of Appeals has reinstated a suit accusing Atascosa Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram of negligently entrusting a 2012 Ram 1500 to a customer with a history of drunken-driving arrests and no valid license. The dealership gave the customer, William John Heyden, the Ram as a loaner while it waited for parts to repair his 2008 Dodge Caliber.
According to the decision, Heyden was drunk when the Ram crossed the center line of a highway in September 2012 and crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by Steven Walters. Both men were taken by helicopter for medical treatment.
Heyden told the investigating officers that he'd bent down to pick up his cellphone but later testified that he'd been trying to kill himself by driving off a bridge.
Heyden had bought the used Caliber from the dealership in August 2012 after totaling a Ford Taurus in a drunken-driving accident, legal documents said. He later testified that when he bought the Caliber, he showed the salesman a photocopy of an Illinois license that he'd surrendered after a prior drunken-driving arrest and told the salesman he didn't have a valid Texas license.
Some days later, when the Caliber broke down, he called the dealership, which arranged for a tow truck to bring Heyden and the Caliber to the store.
Heyden testified that he drank a six-pack of beer after calling for the tow and that when he arrived at the dealership, he was given the Ram without being asked for his license.
His Caliber salesman, who met him when he arrived, testified that Heyden showed no signs of intoxication at the time and that he drove away in the Ram without incident. Heyden, though, testified he believed he was legally intoxicated at the time and wouldn't have passed a Breathalyzer test.