The Best Western Hotel in Auburn, Washington and a former employee, Kayla Schmidt, who used to work at the front desk at the hotel, are both being sued by the family of a man who died as a result of a drunk driving crash that Schmidt caused. According to the lawsuit, Schmidt had been drinking at the Best Western at a "gathering supervised by the hotel." She left the gathering, ran a red light, and crashed into Jose Luis Gonzalez-Olaguez. Gonzalez-Olaguez died as the result of his injuries. The lawsuit contends that both the hotel and Schmidt are responsible for the accident, stating that "Schmidt was negligent in driving intoxicated and that the hotel was negligent in letting her." A spokesperson for Best Western said, "the company does not comment on pending litigation."
Events that are put on by employers, such as holiday parties or company picnics, are a fun way to reward employees for their hard work and build camaraderie. It is a time when employees can let down their hair and enjoy the company of their co-workers. Unfortunately, however fun an event may be, sometimes an employer can end up being held legally liable for the actions of its employees who get too intoxicated at a function. A person who is injured by a negligent employee who left a company function could attempt to seek damages under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Under this doctrine, an employer can be held liable for the torts its employee commits, but only those that are done within the course and scope of employment. If an act is not within the course and scope of employment than an employer cannot be held liable for the employee's negligent actions. For example, if Bob is a delivery man for ABC Delivery Company and is out delivering flowers he is likely in the course and scope of his employment. If Bob is drinking on the job and causes a car accident, then Bob's employer could be held liable for his actions. However, there are things that can affect whether or not an employer can be held liable. For example, if an employee is driving a company car while on their lunch break and causes an accident, then an employer may escape liability in that instance.
It is unclear from the news story whether the gathering was an official company event or if Schmidt was just drinking at the hotel lobby. If she was simply a patron of an establishment that is licensed to serve alcohol there could be liability that way as well under dram shop laws. Under these type of laws, which vary from state to state, if an employee continues to serve a clearly intoxicated patron or an underage patron, the company could be held liable for the subsequent negligent actions of that intoxicated patron. For instance, liability could be found if the bartender continued to serve a patron who he or she knew was intoxicated and that patron then leaves the bar and gets into a car accident.