Crime & Courts

Are Pizza Hut's delivery practices dangerous? Man files suit after mom dies in crash

. File photo

A wrongful death and negligence lawsuit filed earlier this month by a Wichita man claims Pizza Hut's practice of getting customers "hot pizza quickly" is at least partly to blame for a crash that killed his mother and injured his grandmother while they were waiting for a funeral procession in February.

The lawsuit, filed by Michael R. Capps, says the popular pizza chain's promise to deliver food fast is responsible for the way Courtney G. Clodfelter was driving when he rear-ended Karen and Jaunita Capps at 119th West and Beaumont in Wichita on Feb. 17.

The women had just left Resthaven cemetery and were stopped along the side of the road, waiting for a funeral procession to pass, when they were hit. Karen Capps, a 59-year-old food nutrition technician for the Wichita public schools district and Valley Center resident, died at the crash site.

Her mother, 86, survived but suffered six broken ribs.

Pizza Hut requires "drivers to drive rapidly to deliver hot fresh pizzas in order to make a higher profit in a shorter amount of time and deliver as many pizzas an hour as humanly possible," Michael Capps' lawsuit says.

Pizza Hut of Southeast Kansas did not return phone messages seeking comment on the suit. Attempts to reach Clodfelter by phone and on social media were unsuccessful. Neither had attorneys listed in court records when The Eagle tried to contact them.

Michael Capps also did not return phone messages from The Eagle. He is the Republican candidate for the Kansas House of Representatives seat in District 85, which includes parts of northeast Wichita, Bel Aire, Kechi and Benton. He is running against Democratic candidate Monica Marks.

Michael Capps filed the suit June 6 in Sedgwick County District Court.

No charges have been filed in connection with the crash or Karen Capps' death.

Police hadn't presented the case to the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office yet, office spokesman Dan Dillon said by e-mail last week.

Suing over crashes involving pizza delivery drivers isn't new.

Pizza Hut agreed to pay $9 million to settle a lawsuit in a 2009 crash in Las Vegas that nearly killed a motorcyclist, according to news reports. A Florida jury in 2016 awarded more than $10 million to the widow of a fire chief killed in a crash with a Domino's Pizza delivery driver. That same year, a Georgia woman who suffered brain damage after she was hit by a Papa John's delivery vehicle recovered $11 million.

Five years ago, a Texas jury handed down a $32 million verdict against Domino's over a crash that killed a 65-year-old woman and left her husband with brain injuries. A delivery driver was responsible for the collision, news reports say.

On the day of the Wichita crash, Karen and Jaunita Capps were leaving Resthaven cemetery, 11800 W. Kellogg, after placing flowers on Karen's father's grave. They were hit by a 31-year-old man in a minivan, police and Michael Capps have previously told The Eagle.

The impact pushed the women's SUV into an electric pole, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Clodfelter, the minivan's driver, told first responders that he was delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut in the area when the crash happened.

Clodfelter was headed north on 119th Street and "swerved from one lane into another lane" quickly "to avoid stopped traffic and the funeral procession," the lawsuit says.

"He was driving recklessly and wantonly as well as negligently and carelessly," the suit contends, and "following rapid delivery protocols" created and implemented by Pizza Hut to ensure "customers get hot pizzas quickly after they make a purchase."

Michael Capps' lawsuit also accuses the popular pizza chain of hiring unfit employees, of failing to properly train and supervise drivers and of "turning a blind eye to the need for development of an appropriate safety program" aimed at preventing injuries to others.

He is seeking more than $75,000 in damages.

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Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker