Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Sep 12, 2013

Employer held liable for employee’s drunk driving accident after holiday party

Drug and Alcohol 

A tragic accident turned into major liability for an employer whose holiday party resulted in a drunk-driving fatality.

A tragic accident turned into major liability for an employer whose holiday party resulted in a drunk-driving fatality. Before the event, the employer took the sensible steps of presenting employees with only two drink tickets each and limiting the bar offerings to beer and wine. During the party, it all unraveled. An employee consumed a couple of drinks before arriving, and brought a flask of hard liquor which a manager refilled for him. Despite being noticeably intoxicated, the employee was allowed to drive home from the party. After arriving home he set out again, still drunk, to drive a coworker home, and rear-ended another car while traveling 100 mph, killing the other driver. The family of the victim sued and the court found that the company could be held liable for its employee’s conduct (Purton v. Marriott International, Inc., Cal App, July 2013).

Tips: The people who plan your event should understand that an employer may be liable for an intoxicated employee’s conduct if the employee leaves a company-sponsored social gathering and causes an accident. Check your general-liability insurance policies regarding coverage for alcoholic beverages and defense against other potential negligence claims (food, games, activities, etc.). If you plan to serve alcoholic beverages at your event, consider ways to minimize consumption, such as limiting the time alcohol is available, limiting the number of drink tickets and serving protein-rich food. Have taxis and other forms of transportation easily available in case employees become impaired, and instruct your management team to be on the lookout for potential problems. You should never require employees to attend a company-sponsored social event. Remind employees that they must follow the company’s policy against harassment while at company social events, just as they would on the job. Read other Drug and Alcohol blog posts and see our Legal Guide, “Company Social Events and Liability” (2533).

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