Drunk driver on his way home from work: Is company liable?

Fact One: The company had a strict policy that forbade employees from drinking on the job. Fact Two: It was generally known throughout the plant that Maintenance Department Utility Man Karl Blayman was a heavy drinker. One day at 5:15 p.m.


Fact One: The company had a strict policy that forbade employees from drinking on the job.

Fact Two: It was generally known throughout the plant that Maintenance Department Utility Man Karl Blayman was a heavy drinker.

One day at 5:15 p.m., Blayman, on his way home from work, struck Mrs. Anna Frump, a pedestrian, causing serious injury to her legs and other parts of her body. A breathalizer test at the scene determined that Blayman was drunk at the time. A week later, the company's president received a letter from Frump's attorney advising that his client was suing the company on the grounds that it was negligent in allowing Blayman to leave the plant and drive home while intoxicated.

The letter was turned over to Plant Engineer Frank Markwell. Markwell summoned Blayman's boss, Maintenance Supervisor Al Stiglitz, to his office and showed him the letter.

Stiglitz shook his head sadly. "It was just fifteen minutes after he clocked out. I suppose Blayman must have been drunk on the job. But heck, Frank, I can't watch every employee every minute of the day. If I knew he was drunk, I would have tried to get someone to drive him home, or have done it myself. Maybe the guard should have detected it when he clocked out, but he apparently didn't."

Question : What do you think? Is the company liable?

Expert's opinion: Markwell consulted company attorney John Somners regarding the incident.

Somners said, "In most cases like this I can recall the company was only held responsible under the doctrine of 'host liability' if it was the provider of the liquor that caused the drunkenness. At a Christmas party, for example.

"I might add that this only stresses the importance of department heads' responsibility in monitoring their people closely on the one hand, treating alcoholism as a disease on the other, and finally, taking a tough approach on the possession of alcohol at work, and on employees who come to work or return from lunch in an intoxicated state."

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