Employer May be Liable for Death Caused by Drunk Employee After Holiday Party

Attorney Case Law Update: Purton v. Marriott Int’l, Inc. – This case is about company holiday parties getting out of hand. Are employers liable for accidents caused by their employees who become intoxicated during holiday parties? Branigan Robertson is a California employee lawyer who focuses his practice on hostile work environment, unlawful retaliation, and wrongful termination.

Can Employers be Liable for Drunk Employees?

Marriott hosted an annual holiday party for its employees and management. In an effort to control over zealous employees, only beer and wine was served and each attendee was limited to two drink tickets.  However, Michael Landri wasn’t one to simply sip beer and wine. He decided that a little pre-party drinking would be fun, so he drank a beer and a shot before going to the party. He also brought a flask to the party filled with whiskey.

Mr. Landri did not work the day of the party, but was employed by Marriott as a bartender. While at the party he refilled his flask and proceeded to get intoxicated. After the party, Mr. Landri drove home. He did not drink any more after leaving the party. But after arriving home safely, Mr. Landri decided to get back on the road and drive a co-worker home.

Sadly, Mr. Landri drove over 100 miles per hour and rear-ended Dr. Jared Purton’s vehicle, killing him. Mr. Landri had a blood alcohol level of 0.16.

What did the Court Hold for the Employer?

Mr. Purton’s family sued Marriott for wrongful death. The trial court granted summary judgment for Marriott, effectively throwing out his case. I’m assuming that the trial court tossed the case because Mr. Landri arrived home safely the first time, and then decided to make a second trip. But the court of appeal reversed the trial court, and held that “a trier of fact could conclude the party and drinking of alcoholic beverages benefited Marriott by improving employee morale and furthering employer-employee relations… [and] that Landri was acting within the scope of his employment while ingesting alcoholic beverages at the party.”

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