A Lakewood dealer sold a car to an unlicensed driver. A $5.5 million lawsuit followed

Marianne Scholl was shocked to learn the hit-and-run driver who severely injured her husband had been able to buy the vehicle without having a license.

“I felt that was wrong,” the Seattle resident said. “I felt it’s a public safety hazard. ... Businesses with proper business practices would protect themselves from being in this situation.”

Though Washington has no law against such a sale, the Lakewood dealership should have known it was a bad idea, Scholl and her family argued in a recently settled lawsuit against Carhop. The dealership, part of a national chain, agreed to settle the case last month for $5.5 million.

Roy Umlauf, an attorney who represented the company in the lawsuit, maintains the dealership followed the law with regard to the unlicensed driver.

“Carhop did not hand him the keys,” Umlauf said. “His mother was the one who drove it off the lot.”

The company expected the man would get a license, if he was going to drive the vehicle, Umlauf said.

“It was a very tragic accident,” the attorney said of the wreck that injured Scholl’s husband about a year after the sale.

The complaint and other court records give this account of what happened:

Michael Taylor bought the red 2001 Chrysler Concorde from Carhop on June 19, 2015. The then-24-year-old did not have a driver license, and still did not on July 18, 2016, when he hit Paul Sorensen in a Seattle crosswalk.

The architect, now 60, was walking back to work from a pharmacy when Taylor hit him at Union Street and Sixth Avenue and drove off. Sorenson suffered a catastrophic brain injury.

Police were able to track down Taylor and arrest him. He pleaded guilty to vehicular assault, and was sentenced to a year of work release.

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Paul Sorensen and Marianne Scholl Courtesy photo Marianne Scholl

Scholl said the family initially didn’t believe Sorenson would survive. She described his recovery as “remarkable,” and said he started walking again last summer.

But he still suffers challenging deficits, and won’t be able to return to work, Scholl said.

“He really needs to have someone with him 24 hours a day,” she said.

The family hopes Carhop will change its practices.

Schol said she learned during the lawsuit that in the past five years the company has sold more than 1,200 vehicles at its Washington locations to people who could not legally drive.

“There’s no specific law that says you cannot sell to an unlicensed driver,” said the family’s attorney, Ray Dearie, “but we used the common law to say, ‘You should have known this was a bad idea, but you did it anyway.’”

Carhop knew Taylor did not have a license, Dearie said.

Umlauf, the company’s attorney, noted there are multiple reasons that someone without a license might buy a car. For example, he said, they might purchase it for a caregiver or a child.

But if someone is going to drive the vehicle, he said, Carhop expects that person to have a license and insurance.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell