Employer’s Failure to Conduct Thorough Background Investigation May Be Basis for Liability in Employee’s DUI Accident

In a recent case, a state appellate court considered whether a company could be held liable after an employee caused an accident in a company car while driving drunk. According to the facts as laid out in the court’s opinion, the employee received permission to use a company car on a weekend to move a mattress into a new home, even though this was a violation of company policy. The employee drank several alcoholic drinks on the day he borrowed the car and then collided with the plaintiff’s car.

Passed Out DrunkThe plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the employee and also brought a claim against the company for negligent entrustment. A trial court first heard the case and granted summary judgment to the company on the negligent entrustment claim. It concluded the employer did not know the employee had a pattern of reckless driving, since the employer only knew the employee had one prior DUI conviction and was not aware he had additional DUI convictions.

The plaintiff appealed the decision. He argued summary judgment was improper because the court should have considered whether the company had a duty to investigate the employee’s driving background more thoroughly. The appeals court agreed. It noted that when the company hired the employee, he listed a 1990 conviction for possession of cocaine, but he omitted multiple prior DUI convictions. However, the employee said he told the company about his history of drugs and alcohol, and he also told the company his license was reinstated in 2010 after it was suspended for a DUI conviction. The company did a background investigation of the employee before hiring him. The investigation showed a clean driving history, but it only showed infractions for the previous three years, and his federal criminal history did not show any convictions.

Based on this evidence, the court explained the plaintiff presented enough evidence to survive a summary judgment challenge. The company’s supervisor gave the employee permission to use the car for personal use in violation of the company’s policy. Thus, he was entrusted with a company car. In addition, although the employee was not clear about whether he disclosed his past DUI convictions, the trial court accepted that the employee disclosed that his license had been suspended several times. This alone was sufficient to provide a possible basis for negligent entrustment and mean that summary judgment should have been denied.

The Negligent Entrustment Theory

Under the theory of negligent entrustment, a person or entity that loans a vehicle to another driver may be liable for injuries in a car accident caused by that person. The motivation behind the theory of liability is that a person may be negligent in allowing another person to use a vehicle if the vehicle owner has reason to know that the individual will likely use the vehicle in a way that involves an unreasonable risk of harm to others. This may be based on the person’s age, inexperience, or other circumstances. It may apply in employment settings as well as other settings in which an individual is entrusted with a vehicle.

Contact a South Florida Personal Injury Attorney

In Florida, as in other states, all motorists owe a duty of reasonable care to other drivers and pedestrians. Any motorist who breaches this duty—whether due to distracted driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or any other cause—and injures someone as a result is liable for any injuries and property damage sustained. At the South Florida law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank, our personal injury attorneys use their nearly 100 years of combined experience to advocate for those who have been injured in accidents due to the careless or wrongful conduct of others. If you have been involved in a car accident in Miami or elsewhere in South Florida, contact our office to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Miami car accident attorney. Call 305-448-8585 today to set up your consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court’s Denial of Plaintiff’s Request to Extend Notice Deadline, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 19, 2017.

State Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal of Claim Against Teacher in Wrongful Death Lawsuit, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published February 2, 2017.

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