Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Employers' Liability For Drunk Employees Who Cause Accidents

Something to keep in mind as the holiday season and the "company Christmas party" approaches...

Facts (unfortauntely very tragic): an employee with a known history of drinking leaves his place of employment and causes a horrific crash about 9 miles from the office, killing three people. His blood alcohol limit is 0.43, five times the legal limit.. Apparently he also admits to his supervisor to drinking earlier in the day.

The man who lost his wife and two small children sues the driver and his employer, claiming they knew or should have known that the employee/driver was drunk, and should not have allowed him to drive. The employer offers the testimony of seven witnesses who claim that they had no reason to suspect he was drunk.

A Michigan jury will decide this issue this week.

What liability would an Ohio employer have when intoxicated employees negligently cause a crash under similar circumstances? The answer--it depends. For example, if the negligent employee was in the "scope of employment" at the time of the crash, the employer would be liable for the employee's negligence. However, it is not always clear whether an employee is in the scope of employment.

But even if the employee's act is outside the scope of his or her employment, an employer can be held liable in Ohio for negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle if the employee was incompetent to drive and the employer knew or should have known about it. However, in order to "entrust" a vehicle to another person, the employer would have to have some sort of ownership interest in the vehicle.

Given what happened in the Michigan case, employers would be wise to take action if they suspect that employees entrusted to drive company cars or even their own vehicles are impaired. No matter what the intracacies of the law are here, it's just common sense.

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