Key Decisions

August 2013 – An Employer Could Be Liable For An Employee’s Drunk Driving

(filed under: Key Decisions | August 16, 2013)

An Employer Could Be Liable For An Employee’s Drunk Driving

Purton v. Marriott International, Inc.
(Cal. Ct. of App., 4th Dist.), filed July 31, 2013, published July 31, 2013

KEY FACTS

In December 2009, the Marriott International held its annual holiday party as a “thank you” for its employees and management. Marriott did not require employees to attend the party. Management decided that each party attendee would receive two drink tickets. They planned to serve only beer and wine at the party.

Michael Landri was a Marriott employee. He did not work on the day of the party. Before the party, Landri drank a beer and a shot of “Jack Daniel’s” whiskey at his home. Landri was driven to the party. He took a flask to the party, which he estimated held about five ounces, filled to some degree with Jack Daniel’s. During the party, he drank other alcohol.

At about 9:00 p.m., Landri and several other people left the party. He did not consume any alcohol after leaving.

About 20 minutes after arriving at his home, Landri decided to drive an intoxicated co-worker home. While doing so, Landri struck a vehicle driven by Dr. Jared Purton, killing Dr. Purton. Landri had a .16 blood alcohol level.

Dr. Purton’s parents filed a wrongful-death action against Landri, Marriott and others. They alleged that Marriott held the party for its benefit, including to improve relations between employees, to improve relations between it and employees, and to increase the continuity of employment by providing a fringe benefit.

Marriott moved for summary judgment, arguing that it could not be liable because the accident did not occur within the scope of Landri’s employment. The trial court granted the motion, finding that at the time of the accident, Landri was not acting within the scope of his employment.

HOLDING & REASONING

The Court of Appeal reversed.

The court held that an employer may be liable for its employees’ torts as long as the proximate cause of the injury occurred within the scope of employment. The court found that it was irrelevant that foreseeable effects of Landri’s negligent conduct (the car accident) occurred when he was no longer acting within the scope of his employment. It also held that no legal justification exists for terminating the employer’s liability as a matter of law simply because the employee arrived home safely from the employer hosted party. What mattered was that Landri had become intoxicated while within the scope of his employment. The court noted: “a reasonable trier of fact could find that Landri acted negligently by becoming intoxicated at the party, that this act was within the scope of his employment and proximately caused the car accident which resulted in Dr. Purton’s death.”

ANALYSIS

This case is interesting — particularly when compared to cases holding that by statute, one who serves alcohol to another is not the proximate cause of injuries caused by intoxication. Had Marriott permitted a non-employee party guest to become intoxicated and had permitted that guest to drive home, its conduct, by statute, would not have been a proximate cause of any resulting injury. See, e.g., Debolt v. Kragen Auto Supply, 182 Cal.App.3d 269 (1986).