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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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Employee causes death following drink-fuelled company party – employer may be held responsible

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An employer could be held liable after an employee got drunk at a company party and killed a driver when trying to drive a colleague home. The court said that the fact the incident occurred after he had arrived home from the party was not relevant.

What happened?

In December 2009 Michael Landri, a bartender with Mariott International Inc, drank a beer and a shot of whiskey at home and then took a flask containing five ounces (approximately 150ml) of whiskey to a company-sponsored party.

The hotel provided only wine and beer at the party and provided each employee two drink tickets. Landri drank the whiskey he brought and also got it refilled by the on-duty bartender from the hotel’s supply.

Landri left the party and, while driving a co-worker home, struck another vehicle and killed the driver. Landri was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and went to prison, while the parents of the driver who was killed due Marriott for wrongful death.

Marriott asked the trial court to dismiss the case because Landri was not acting within the scope of his employment when the incident happened – this was upheld by the trial court and the parents appealed the decision.

The appellate court rejected the employer’s original argument that it shouldn’t be held liable, and found sufficient evidence that Landri was in fact acting within the scope of his employment when he became intoxicated. The party, it noted, was a ‘thank you’ to employees and its purpose was “celebration” and “holiday spirit” among others.

The employer then said it shouldn’t be held liable because Landri’s employment ended when he arrived home and further because it had no ability to control Landri’s personal conduct when he arrived home. The court rejected both defences, adding that the employer created the danger through providing alcohol for consumption, and that there were no grounds for ending application of the law just because the employee had arrived home.

The court reversed the initial judgement and has remanded the case for further proceedings.

What does this mean for HR?

Interestingly, the court said it could have lowered the risk of negative behaviour from the party by banning smuggled alcohol from being taken in, serving food or withholding alcohol altogether. This just shows how important it is for employers to show they have taken reasonable steps, whether in this case or with regard to disability law compliance and other key areas of law.

More details on the law behind the decision can be found at SHRM.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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