The 2009 tragic beating and eventual death of a North Texas Domino's pizza delivery driver is back in the spotlight after the victim's wife filed suit against the pizza chain July 11. Jackie Rein is alleging that Domino's failed to follow its own safety procedures and policies put in place to protect delivery drivers, which, she said, led to her husband's death.
Frederick Rein, 66, who also was known as "The Pizza Man," suffered a violent beating at the hands of three teenagers while trying to deliver a pizza to what the family's Attorney Geno Borchardt describes as a "known unsafe neighborhood" in Texas. He had been a delivery driver for Domino's for 10 years after his retirement from pharmaceutical sales.
Rein suffered brain damage in the attack and died one year later. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office ruled his December 2010 death a homicide caused by complications of the head injuries from the assault.
The suit names the defendants as: Product of Excellence LLC d/b/a Mark of Excellence Pizza Company a/k/a Domino's; DCM Pizza LLC; Dennis Lee Mayhall; Domino 's Pizza LLC and Domino's Pizza Franchising LLC, alleging negligence on their behalf for failing to follow the company's safety procedures and requiring Rein to deliver to an unsafe neighborhood. The suit also alleges that "as a result of the violent and vicious attack" Rein suffered from an untimely death as a result.
Specifically, Borchardt said since the delivery order came from a prepaid cell phone and was requested to an uninhabited house, it required a follow-up call to ensure it was a legitimate order. However, the store manager did not make the call. That task, Borchardt said, was usually done by the driver, but in Rein's case the manager on duty usually made the call because Rein had a hearing impairment. The suit also alleges that the defendants knew the address was in an unsafe area and shouldn't have allowed Rein to make the delivery.
Defining an "unsafe neighborhood"
Although Bordchardt maintains that the pizza chain is at fault and should have refused delivery to the "unsafe neighborhood," it's not that simple, according to D.B. Libby Libhart, a 30-year loss prevention expert and founder of Lossbusters.
"It's a very sad situation. It's a tragedy, and Domino's may or may not have followed the policy," Libhart said. "But there are a lot of different issues that you just don't know."
Libhart said it's complicated to define restricted areas because if a restaurant simply refuses to deliver to certain addresses without empirical data, such as crime rates, to back it up, laws and ethics could be broken.
"What further compounds the issue is that if a neighborhood is (deemed unsafe) does that mean you can't drive through that address to get to another area?" Libhart said. "The real issue is how do they determine what an 'unsafe' area is?"
In fact, in 1998, a Fayetteville, N.C., woman claimed she was discriminated against because of her race when a Domino's store refused to deliver to her neighborhood; however, Domino's said it refused delivery because the area was unsafe. The issue led the company to work with the Department of Justice to create the Limited Delivery Service Standard, which states that "decisions to limit delivery service are never to be based on factors such as race, national origin, religion, age, or any other characteristic protected by law."
The standards also require stores to adopt a procedure for the investigation of an area that is suspected to be unsafe before making a final decision to limit delivery service in that area.
Domino's already had the formalized delivery policy and simply shared it with the Department of Justice when the 1998 complaint was made, said Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for Domino's.
Borchardt said his investigation using crime statistics indicates the neighborhood where Rein was attacked has a significant crime rate.
"In conjunction with the prepaid cell phone being used to order a pizza to an uninhabited house, we believe we will show this delivery should not have been made," Borchardt said.
The details matter
Libhart said another important question to ask is how the callback situation worked exactly.
Did the managers "always" make the callbacks for Rein, or did they "usually" make the calls? Was it Rein's responsibility to check if the call was made?
"Usually or always is important," Libhart said. "You can say anything in a lawsuit, but it doesn't make it true."
He also said simply calling back to confirm the order may or may not have prevented the attack.
"They could have called the number back and someone could have answered and said, 'Yeah, I ordered a pizza. Where is it?' We just don't know," Libhart said.
The next steps
Although Borchardt is prepared to take the case to trial, he said whether it will go that far lies more in Domino's hands.
The defendants should answer the lawsuit in the next few months, and the district court will set a scheduling order to dictate deadlines. If it goes to trial, Borchardt expects it to start in the fall of 2012.
"Mr. Rein was using this job to take care of his wife and grandchildren, and the death caused a tremendous amount of loss," Borchardt said. "Nothing can repair that loss, but we hope we can achieve a financial result to allow Mr. Rein's widow and grandchildren to not feel the financial burden of his loss."
Domino's would not comment on the specifics of the case, but McIntyre said, "We were shocked and saddened by this senseless tragedy. We are grateful that the people responsible were caught and convicted."
The attackers, two 16-year-old boys and one 15-year-old boy, were captured, and the ringleader testified last year that he beat Rein with a baseball bat. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 40 years in a Texas Youth Commission facility. He turned 18 this week, however, and was ordered in March to be transferred to an adult prison to serve out the rest of his time.
The two other teens pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and were sentenced to five years in a youth facility.