Jim Porter: Drinking at work results in crash
October 10, 2013
If you and your boss have a few beers after work and you then crash into someone on the way home, is your boss responsible? Your company? What if you're driving home from work, sober as a judge, well sober as a sober judge, and you run into someone? Is your employer liable?
What if you drink before you go to the company-sanctioned celebration, then drink like a fish at the party, drive home, wait 20 minutes, then take off to drive someone who's too drunk to drive home from the party (what?), then rear-end a vehicle and kill the driver?
I could go on with these "what ifs." I could.
MARRIOTT OFFICE PARTY
Michael Landri and lots of other Marriott Del Mar Hotel employees attended the Hotel's annual "employee thank you" holiday party. Employees were not required to attend. Only beer and wine was to be served.
Landri, a bartender who was off that day, drank a beer and a shot of Jack Daniels at home, then went to the party with a flask of Jack.
OLD MAN SPOILER ALERT
Why is it young kids these days, which for me is basically everyone, drink heavily before they go to a party. Why when we were young … we went to parties and then drank — too much.
The Marriott bartender filled Landri's flask with more Jack, which he pulled from Hotel stock. Finally around 9 p.m., Landri drove home, drank no more, but decided to leave and drive a coworker home who had become intoxicated at the party. Like an unqualified designated driver I guess.
He then managed to drive over 100 mph and rear end and kill a doctor. Very sad.
'GOING AND COMING RULE'
The doctor's family sued Landri and Marriott. Clearly Landri was responsible but he probably had no assets and minimal insurance.
Marriott defended based upon the "going and coming rule," which generally exempts an employer from liability for accidents committed by employees while going to or coming home from their work place.
Merely driving to and from work is considered to be "outside the scope of employment," so no employer liability. That's the general rule.
WITHIN SCOPE OF EMPLOYMENT
The doctor's family argued that Landri was acting within the scope of his employment because the party was a benefit to Marriott and part of the benefits of Marriott employees, plus the Marriott bartender had provided Jack Daniels to Landri, and other higher-ups at Marriott knew there was serious drinking going on at the holiday party.
The doctor's family contended that for all of those reasons Marriott was liable because Landri was acting within the scope of his employment while ingesting alcoholic beverages at the party. (Good work if you can get it.) Like Landri's 0.16 blood alcohol.
ONE MORE DEFENSE
Marriott's last argument was that once Landri made it home, that's where the company's liability stopped. When he left his home 20 minutes later and started driving — did I mention 100 mph — Marriott's liability had already ended.
The Court of Appeal, while it did not rule that Marriott was liable, determined there was enough evidence for the doctor's family to take its case to a jury, concluding: "There is no reasonable justification for cutting off an employer's potential liability as a matter of law simply because an employee reaches home … The employer's potential liability under these circumstances continues until the risk that was created (by drinking at an office party) within the scope of the employee's employment dissipates … We think that if a commercial enterprise chooses to allow its employees to consume alcoholic beverages for the benefit of the enterprise, fairness requires that the enterprise should bear the burden of injuries proximately caused by the employees' consumption."
— Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm's web site http://www.portersimon.com. Find us on Facebook.