In most cases, the decision to drink is a highly personal one, and any consequences that result from over consumption fall strictly on the consumer. However, the law is complex, and the courts have held persons accountable who seemingly had nothing to do with an accident.
In order to understand how it is possible for a court to hold an employer accountable for an employee’s drunk driving accident, there are two legal concepts you must understand. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, those are “respondeat superior” and “vicarious liability.”
Respondeat superior and vicarious liability
Under the concept of respondeat superior, an employer is almost always responsible for the actions an employee performs within the course of employment. This theory is based on the concept of vicarious liability, which states that the courts may hold one person accountable for the actions of another based on the parties’ relationship.
Civil courts regularly evoke the concept of respondeat superior in personal injury cases. For instance, say a person slips and falls on a previously mopped floor because an employee failed to put up a “Wet Floor” sign. Though the employer is not directly to blame, the courts will likely hold him or her accountable because the accident was the result of an action the employee took during the scope of employment.
In the past, courts had a narrow definition of “scope of employment.” For example, 30 years ago a judge may have ruled that the employee was liable for the slip and fall accident because he or she disobeyed protocol. Today, however, the courts almost always hold employers accountable for accidents that occur while an employee is working, even if the employer does not condone said actions. Moreover, employers may assume liability for flat-out negligence, such as drinking and driving.
Respondeat superior and drinking and driving
To determine if the theory of respondeat superior applies in drinking and driving crashes, the courts will ask the big question: Was the employee on the clock when the accident occurred. If the answer is yes because, say, the employee was on his or her way back from a sales meeting, the courts may place blame on the employer. Additionally, a judge may hold the company liable for negligent hiring, especially if the worker has a history of criminal behavior.