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Is My Employer Responsible If I Drive Home Drunk and Get Into an Accident?


In Tennessee law, a person may be held liable for negligent entrustment if they entrust a vehicle to someone who subsequently causes a car accident and injures a third party. For example, if you loan someone your car knowing that person is intoxicated, and that person goes on to injure someone in a DUI accident, the victim could sue you for damages under the theory of negligent entrustment.

Court Rejects Negligent Entrustment Claim Against Retailer

But could the intoxicated driver sue you for not stopping him from using his own car? The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently considered this question. The plaintiff in this case worked for a retail store in Chattanooga. One day before reporting for work, the plaintiff ingested a drug he claimed was estazolam, a “chemical cousin of valium.”

One of the plaintiff’s co-workers informed an assistant manager that the plaintiff “was acting slow, tired and not very responsive.” The manager instructed the plaintiff to stop operating heavy machinery, clock out early, and go home. The plaintiff complied. While driving home, the plaintiff hit a median wall and then a truck, totaling both vehicles.

A police officer interviewed the plaintiff at the accident scene. The officer later testified that he “saw no indication that plaintiff was under the influence of an intoxicant” and allowed another person to take the plaintiff home. However, the plaintiff’s mother observed later that night that her son was stumbling and “not making any sense.” The next day, she had her son admitted to a mental health facility for treatment.

The plaintiff subsequently sued his employer, arguing it was “negligent in allowing him to leave the store’s premises in an inebriated state.” The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

The plaintiff maintained the store was liable for negligent entrustment since the manager knew the plaintiff was incapable of operating heavy machinery yet let him drive away in his own car. But as the Court of Appeals explained, under Tennessee law, the defendant had no such legal duty. Indeed, the Court of Appeals held in a 2001 case that an employer owed no legal duty to a third party for an accident caused by an intoxicated employee who was driving home. In that case, the Court said the employer did not “contribute” to the employee’s intoxication, and it further lacked the means to control her actions once she left the employer’s premises.

Given that an employer owes no duty to a third party in these circumstances, the Court of Appeals said it would be “plainly absurd to now hold that an employer has a duty to attempt to prevent injury to an employee who voluntarily went to work in an allegedly impaired state.” The plaintiff “voluntarily” got into his car and left work; the defendant was not liable for what happened afterwards.

Need Help From a Clinton Personal Injury Attorney?

While the plaintiff did not prevail in this case, there are many other situations where an employer negligently entrusts an employee with the use of a vehicle. If you are injured as a result of such actions, you have the right to seek damages. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you need to speak with an experienced Knoxville car accident lawyer right away.



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