The family of a 75-year-old woman who was allegedly killed in her Florida home last month by a man who delivered a washer and dryer she bought from a Best Buy store has filed a negligence lawsuit against the retail chain.
Boca Raton police say Jorge Lachazo, 21, smashed Evelyn “Evy” Udell in the head with a mallet. Then doused her unconscious body with acetone and lit her on fire after delivering the appliances to her home on Aug. 19.
David Gonzalez, who told police that he drove the delivery van that day and that Lachazo was assigned to be his helper, was reportedly outside during the attack. He called 911 after realizing what happened. Udell was transported to a hospital but died the next day.
Police arrested Lachazo soon after he fled the scene in the delivery van. He was charged with first-degree murder on Aug. 29 and was awaiting his arraignment.
According to a lawsuit filed Thursday by Udell’s family, Best Buy is legally responsible for the woman’s wrongful death because the company did not properly investigate and oversee the delivery drivers.
Udell believed she hired Best Buy employees, subject to the company’s oversight, to deliver her new washer and dryer and remove the old ones, the lawsuit alleges. But Best Buy hired transport company, J.B. Hunt, to handle the delivery, which then contracted X.M. Delivery Service, which then assigned Lachazo and Gonzalez to the task.
“It’s scary that the place where we should be the safest ― our own home ― is, unfortunately, a place of danger,” Nick Panagakis, the Udell family’s attorney, told HuffPost.
Panagakis accused Best Buy of acting with “reckless disregard” and said companies failing to properly vet and take accountability for delivery people and other in-home service workers is a “national epidemic.”
“This has been going on for years,” the lawyer said. “You either have to be operating with blinders on or you just know it and don’t care.”
Udell’s husband, Joel, has suffered from “mental anguish and emotional distress,” according to the lawsuit, filed in the Palm Beach County Circuit Court. The family is seeking compensatory damages over $15,000.
They are also calling for legislation that requires extensive and ongoing background checks for in-home service workers and ensures companies continuously monitor workers for criminal activity as long as they are employed, Udell’s family said during a press conference.
Udell’s family is suing Best Buy on several counts, including negligence and loss of consortium. Lachazo, Gonzalez, X.M. Delivery Service and its owner Manuel Chavez, J.B. Hunt, and the two Best Buy employees who arranged for the washer and dryer to be delivered are also charged in the lawsuit.
Lachazo admitted to police that he attacked Udell and that he had been using cocaine and marijuana earlier, according to an arrest report. He had been previously arrested for theft in 2018 and had a history of traffic and driving-related citations.
Udell suffered multiple skull and facial fractures, severe brain bleeding, and second and third-degree burns over the majority of her body, the police report said.
Best Buy said in a statement that it would support legislation requiring background checks across the retail industry and offered to donate to a charity established by the Udell family in the wake of Evelyn’s death.
“Specific to our own practices, background checks have long been required by Best Buy, and we are working with those we contract out to ensure that these checks are up-to-date and are done on a re-occurring basis,” the company said. “Additionally, we continue to work with an independent security firm to review the practices of all third parties that we hire to do work on our behalf in customers’ homes.”
J.B. Hunt said in a statement that the company didn’t directly employ Lachazo and that it had stopped working with X.M. Delivery Service amid a review of the firm’s safety standards, reported NBC News.
X.M. Delivery Service did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Udell’s family described Evelyn as a “beautiful, kind, and giving” grandmother, wife, mother, mother-in-law, and sister who traveled extensively and volunteered at the local library.
“She had been looking forward to her ‘golden years,’ with many more milestones to celebrate with her children and grandchildren; birthdays, graduations, weddings,” the family said in a statement.
“All of that was taken from her and from us,” the statement continued. “Instead, she faced unspeakable terror and pain in her final moments, having fallen victim to a barbaric, yet preventable attack that can be described as nothing short of torture. Our family stands before you today vowing to protect Evy’s legacy and ensure that she did not die in vain.”