California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. 37-2010-00099161- CU-PA-CTL, Richard E. L. Strauss, Judge.
Mardirossian & Associates, Garo Mardirossian, Armen K. Akaragian; Law Offices of Eran Lagstein, Eran Lagstein, Dimitrios N. Theofilopoulos; The Ehrlich Law Firm and Jeffrey I. Ehrlich for Plaintiffs and Appellants.
Brady, Vorwerck, Ryder & Caspino, Robert B. Ryder and Ravi Sudan for Defendants and Respondents.
In this case, an employee consumed alcoholic beverages at an employer hosted party and became intoxicated. The employee arrived home safely, but then left to drive a coworker home. During that drive, the employee struck another car, killing its driver. The trial court granted summary judgment for the employer on the ground the employer's potential liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior ended when the employee arrived home.
We hold that an employer may be found liable for its employee's torts as long as the proximate cause of the injury (here, alcohol consumption) occurred within the scope of employment. It is irrelevant that foreseeable effects of the employee's negligent conduct (here, the car accident) occurred at a time the employee was no longer acting within the scope of his or her employment. We also hold that no legal justification exists for terminating the employer's liability as a matter of law simply because the employee arrived home safely from the employer hosted party. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment in favor of the employer.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Defendant Marriott International, Inc. (Marriott) employed Michael Landri as a bartender at the Marriott Del Mar Hotel (the Hotel). Dennis Fraher was the Hotel general manager and Joseph Emma was the assistant general manager. Emma was the second highest ranking person at the Hotel from 2005 to 2009. Sarah Hanson was the department head or general manager for the restaurant. Emma was Hanson's immediate supervisor.
In December 2009, the Hotel held its annual holiday party as a "thank you" for its employees and management. Marriott did not require that its employees attend the party. Emma and Hanson decided that each party attendee would receive two drink tickets. They planned to serve only beer and wine at the party.
Landri did not work on the day of the party. Before the party, Landri drank a beer and a shot of "Jack Daniel's" whiskey at his home. Page Savicki drove Landri and three other individuals to the party. They arrived at the party at about 6:15 p.m. Landri took a flask to the party, which he estimated held about five ounces, filled to some degree with Jack Daniel's.
Hanson was the only bartender at the party. At one point during the party, Hanson had a bottle of Jack Daniel's from the Hotel's liquor supply brought to the bar. Landri recalled filling his flask once during the party, but it might have been more. At about 9:00 p.m., Landri, Savicki and several other people left the party. Landri "believe[d]" that Savicki drove home. Savicki and another person support this belief, while a fourth person claimed that Landri drove. Landri did not consume any alcohol after leaving the Hotel.
After about 20 minutes, Landri decided to drive home a coworker that had become intoxicated at the party. While doing so, Landri struck a vehicle driven by Dr. Jared Purton, killing Dr. Purton. Following the accident, Landri had a.16 blood alcohol level. He pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of alcohol and received a six-year prison sentence.
Plaintiffs, Dr. Purton's parents, filed this wrongful-death action against Landri, Marriott and others. As relevant to the issue before us, Plaintiffs alleged that Marriott held the party for its benefit, including to improve relations between employees, improve relations between it and employees, and increase the continuity of employment by providing a fringe benefit. As a bartender, Landri had an above average education regarding the effects of drinking alcohol. Landri became extremely intoxicated at the party. Although intoxicated, Landri was allowed to leave the Hotel and drive. Landri arrived home and then decided to drive another person home. While still intoxicated and driving over 100 miles per hour, Landri rear-ended Dr. Purton's vehicle.
Marriott moved for summary judgment on the ground it was not liable because the accident did not occur within the scope of Landri's employment. The trial court granted the motion, finding that at the time of the accident, Landri was not acting within the scope of his employment. Plaintiffs timely appealed.
I. Standard of ...