In the new California case of Purton v. Marriott International, Inc., the Court of Appeal issued a ruling that dramatically expands traditional notions of an employer’s liability for an employee’s actions. In the case, an employee drank alcohol at his employer’s holiday party. He drove home safely, but later left his home again to drive to a friend’s house, during which he crashed into another car, killing the driver. The defendant employer successfully moved for summary judgment before the trial court, arguing that the employee had arrived home prior to the accident, meaning his subsequent drive (and accident) were not within his scope of employment under the “coming and going rule.”
The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the operative question was not whether the employee was in the scope of employment at the time of the accident, but rather whether the proximate cause of the accident occurred during the scope of employment. Assuming the intoxication was the proximate cause of the accident, the Court held that the employee’s drinking was within his scope of employment if the event was of “conceivable benefit” to the employer and the drinking was “a customary incident to the employment relationship.” The Court concluded the party was held to improve morale, and thus “of a conceivable benefit” to the employer; the drinking was customary because the employer gave express permission by providing drink tickets and having managers drink with employees.
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, employers should pay particular heed to this case, including instituting measures to avoid over-serving employees and providing alternate transportation from holiday parties.