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Lawsuit Involving Pizza Hut Set to go to Jurors

by John Gomez | Last Updated: July 26, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010 — In November 2008, a professional driver for Pizza Hut suddenly drove her car into oncoming traffic in Clairmont, hitting the vehicle driven by Olena Novak head-on.

As a result of the crash, a mother and daughter, Olena Novak, at the time 87, and Shari Novak, at the time 62, suffered severe injuries.  Olena suffered a broken neck and Shari suffered permanent brain damage and can no longer feed herself, communicate or provide for her own daily care.

Attorneys for the Novaks filed a personal-injury lawsuit last year against the driver and her employer, California-based Pizza Hut Inc. The 18-year-old driver, who suffered minor injuries, was eventually dropped from the suit.

Pizza Hut says the crash occurred because the driver had a seizure, which caused her to blackout momentarily while driving. They say her medical condition was not diagnosed until after the collision. Though never diagnosed with a seizure disorder, the driver had an extensive history of “blackout” and “starting spells.”

On Tuesday July 27, 2010 a San Diego Superior Court jury will be asked to decide whether Pizza Hut is responsible for the Novaks’ injuries — as the plaintiffs’ attorneys contend — for failing to realize that the teen was an unfit driver when they hired her.

“Pizza Hut has the responsibility of putting safe drivers on the road, on our roads,” said John Gomez, lawyer for Shari Novak, during closing arguments last week.

He said the Novaks are entitled to unspecified damages, including lost wages, past and future medical expenses, and pain and suffering damages.

Representatives for Pizza Hut say the company did its due diligence when hiring the driver, Nicole Fisk, who had a valid California driver’s license, her own car — a Hyundai Elantra — and insurance.

“Pizza Hut did nothing wrong at the time they hired Nicole,” said James Yukevich, an attorney for the defendant. “The accident had nothing to do with training or supervision,”

Yukevich argued in court that the core issue is whether Fisk could know before the collision, on Clairemont Drive near Ute Drive, that she would be suddenly incapacitated by the onset of an epileptic seizure.

“Nicole, if asked, would have told Pizza Hut that she had no health problems that would affect her ability to be a driver,” he said.

Citing testimony from the case, Yukevich told the jury that Fisk went with her mother to a doctor in January 2007, complaining of “staring spells.” She saw several doctors between January and August 2007, when she reportedly had trouble breathing and at times was unresponsive, but she was not diagnosed with epilepsy.

“Nicole didn’t realize she was blacking out,” Yukevich said.

He said that it wasn’t until after the collision that she learned she was suffering from a “complex seizure disorder.”

Gomez said that Pizza Hut was shifting blame for its negligence to the doctors who treated Fisk and to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which issued Fisk a driver’s license. He said that the DMV sets a minimum standard for California motorists and that Pizza Hut should have done more to ensure that Fisk, who was hired as a professional driver, was also a safe driver.

Gomez called the assertion that Fisk couldn’t remember her seizure “a little convenient.”

“‘I don’t remember’ doesn’t make it right,” he said.

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