In a case which broadly extends the Respondeat Superior doctrine as against employers for intoxicated employees who have caused motor vehicle accidents following an employer sponsored holiday party in which alcoholic beverages were served, the California Court of Appeal, 4th District, ruled in Purton v. Marriott International, Inc. (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 499 ("Purton Case") that summary judgment was improvidently granted in favor of an employer, Marriott International, Inc. ("Marriott") even though the employee of the Marriott had arrived home safely from the holiday party in question and then had left his home to drop off another employee.
The Purton Case involved a fatal motor vehicle accident in which Dr. Jared Purton was struck by Michael Landri and killed. Prior to the accident, Landri, employed as a bartender at the Marriott Del Mar Hotel, had attended the hotel's annual holiday party. The Marriott described the holiday party as a "thank you" for the hotel's employees and management. The Marriott did not require that its employees attend the party. Prior to the party, Landri did not work that day. Before the party, Landri testified that he drank a beer and a shot of "Jack Daniels" whiskey at his home. A friend, Page Savicki, drove Landri and three other individuals to the Marriott holiday party. They arrived at the party at about 6:15 p.m. and Landri took a flask to the party, which he estimated held about five ounces, filled to some degree with Jack Daniels.
The employees at the Marriott party were each provided two drink tickets. Sara Hanson, who acted as the bartender at the party, testified that she had a bottle of Jack Daniels from the hotel's liquor supply brought to the bar during the party. Landri testified that he recalled filling his flask at least once during the party, but it could have been more than once. At about 9:00 p.m., Landri, Savicki and several other people left the party. There was a dispute in the testimony as to how Landri got home, as Landri testified that he believed that Savicki had drove him home; but at least one member in their party claimed that
Landri had driven himself home. Landri testified that he did not consume any alcohol after leaving the holiday party.
After having been home for about 20 minutes, Landri decided to drive a coworker, that Landri believed to be intoxicated, to the coworker's home. While doing so, Landri struck a vehicle driven by Dr. Purton, killing Dr. Purton. Following the accident, Landri was found to have a 0.16 blood alcohol level and pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of alcohol and received a six year prison sentence.
Dr. Purton's parents, as Plaintiffs, filed a wrongful death action against Landri, the Marriott, and others.
After filing responsive pleadings, the Marriott filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis that, under Respondeat Superior, the Marriott could not be liable for Landri's actions, as Landri was not working within the course and scope of employment, that the going and coming rule should apply, and, in any event, there was no proximate cause as Landri had arrived home safely and had only, later on, decided to drive his vehicle again.
The Motion for Summary Judgment was granted. On appeal, the California Court of Appeal reversed the grant of summary judgment. In its holding, the California Court of Appeal commented that, under "the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be held vicariously liable for torts committed by an employee within the scope of employment." [Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles (1991) 54 Cal.3d 202] The Court of Appeal further noted that the scope of employment, for purposes of the Respondeat Superior doctrine, has been interpreted broadly. [Farmers Insurance Group v. County of Santa Clara (1995) 11 Cal.4th 992]
The Court of Appeal also noted that the imposition of Respondeat Superior liability is not dependent on the employer undertaking any act or upon any fault of the employer, but rather that an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee's tort if the employee's act was an "outgrowth" of the employment, inherent in the working environment, or typical of or broadly incidental to the employer's business.
The Court of Appeal went on to note that the negligent act in this case was the consumption of alcohol and then driving a motor vehicle. The Court reviewed several cases involving employee intoxication including: McCarty v. Workmen's Compensation Appeals Board, (1974) 12 Cal.3d 677; Harris v. Trojan Fireworks Co. (1981) 120 Cal.App.3d 157; Childers v. Shasta Livestock Auction Yard, Inc. (1987) 190 Cal.App.3d 792; and Bussard v. Minimed, Inc. (2003) 105
Cal.App.4th 798. In reviewing those cases, the Court of Appeal noted that California law clearly establishes that an employer may be found liable for its employee's torts as long as the proximate cause of the injury occurred within the scope of employment (which is to be construed broadly). The Court of Appeal noted that it is irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employee's negligent conduct occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of his or her employment.
Based upon case law on point, the California Court of Appeal ruled that sufficient evidence existed in the record to support a finding that Landri breached a duty of care owed to the public by becoming intoxicated at the Marriott holiday party and that Landri's actions in taking a coworker home were within the broad ambit of a scope of employment for purposes of the Respondeat Superior doctrine.
The Court of Appeal noted that the holdings in McCarty, Harris and Childress dealt with employees who were involved in accidents when the employee drove home from an employer sanctioned event while intoxicated. The Court of Appeal further noted that the Marriott had argued that the going and coming rule creates a "bright line parameter" to bar its vicarious liability because Landri had already arrived home safely. The Court of Appeal rejected this position specifically and noted that the going and coming rule is a rule of nonliability to an employer for the negligent acts of its employees while going and coming to work. The Court of Appeal specifically ruled that a trier of fact could conclude, as in the Purton Case, that the proximate cause of the accident, in that case Landri's intoxication, occurred within the scope of the employee's employment, and that the employee's driving his vehicle after having arrived home safely was well within the scope of employment for purposes of Respondeat Superior. The Court of Appeal specifically held, in that regard, that 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 Purton Case certainly provides authority for a broad construction of Respondeat Superior liability for employees who become intoxicated at employer sponsored events.
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