National franchise chains work with local owners under agreements that impose brand requirements. Massachusetts Appeals Court decided in Lind v Domino’s Pizza LLC the Domino’s Pizza franchisor had no possible liability in a case brought for a delivery driver who was murdered delivering pies in the middle of the night.
There is a general rule that there is no duty to protect others from the criminal conduct of third parties.
The case focused solely on the potential liability of the franchisor – not that of the murderer or the local franchisee employer. The court focused on the right to control details of performance.
The franchise agreement said it was not an agency agreement. Principal who hire agents are broadly legally responsible for the agent and to the agent. Instead the franchise agreement between Domino’s national operations and the local operator did not control the details of performance of operations sufficient to impose liability on the national franchisor.
While the franchise agreement required the local owner to comply with all specification, standards and operating procedures proscribed by Domino’s – the supervision, training, and directing of employees on delivery safety issues were duties of the local franchisee.
The murdered deliveryman’s estate tried several theories in their effort to recover from the national brand, vicarious liability, negligence, and third party beneficiary contract – none worked.
COBB COMMENT –Brands get financing to go national but they establish franchise agreements with local operators designed to keep liabilities from flowing up the chain. Presumably these agreements also require franchisees to bulk up on insurance – and that coverage is the proper target of claims for employees who get attacked at work, at least under the rules described in this case.