New case finds Marriott could be liable for employee’s “off-duty” accident

A California Court of Appeal held an employer could be held liable for its employee’s off-duty accident, as long as the cause of the injury occurred within the scope of employment.  Purton v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., No. D060475 (Cal. Ct. App. Jul. 31, 2013).  This holding extends to Unions acting in their capacity as employers, as well.

Marriott International, Inc. employed Michael Landri as a bartender. Before Marriott’s holiday party, Landri drank a beer and a shot of whiskey at home. He took a flask of whiskey to the party. Marriott served only beer and wine at the party and gave each employee two drink tickets. However, the bartender at the event refilled Landri’s flask from Marriott’s liquor. After the party, Landri got a ride from others and returned home.

Later, while driving, Landri struck a vehicle, killing Dr. Jared Purton. Landri was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Dr. Purton’s parents sued Marriott for wrongful death. Marriott, Landri’s employer, argued the case should be dismissed because Landri was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The trial court agreed, and the plaintiffs appealed.

The basic legal standard in these types of cases is that an employer may be held vicariously liable for torts (wrongful, unlawful acts) committed by its employee within “the scope of employment.”

On appeal, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court.  It said there was sufficient evidence showing Landri was acting within the scope of his employment when he became intoxicated because the holiday party was a thank-you to employees and the party’s purpose was “[c]elebration, employee appreciation, holiday spirit, [and] team building.” Evidence that Marriott managers consumed hard alcohol with employees at the party and that a Marriott manager served hard alcohol to employees suggests that employees had Marriott’s implied permission to consume hard alcohol at the party. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal decided, a reasonable trier of fact could find that Landri was acting within the scope of his employment when he consumed alcohol at the party.

When Marriott argued that it should not be held liable for Landri’s actions after he arrived home, the Court disagreed, finding an employer’s potential liability is not necessarily cut off simply because an employee reaches home. The Court said vicarious liability is not based on when the injury occurred, but on the act that caused the injury.

The Court went on: “[I]f 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.”

The Court of Appeal decision does not mean that the plaintiffs have won and proven Marriott liable, but it does mean that the case is no longer dismissed and the doctor’s family can continue to pursue the merits of their claims against Marriott in court.

To discuss this case in more detail or others like it, please contact your labor counsel.

By Lisl Duncan | August 13, 2013

Legal Developments