No Duty to Prevent Employee from Driving Intoxicated

There is no duty to prevent an employee from leaving the premises driving his own vehicle while intoxicated. Thompson v. Best Buy Stores, 2016 WL 6946786 (Tenn. Ct. App., June 21, 2016). This is a companion case to Lett v. Collis Foods Inc., 60 S.W.3d 95 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001), which addressed for the first time the question of an employer’s duty to an injured third person to prevent an impaired employee from driving his or her own vehicle. See also Williams V. Walmart Stores East LP, 832 F. Supp. 2d 923, 928 (E.D. Tenn. 2011).

There are a number of questions that should be asked in this particular situation. In addition to the general questions related to whether a duty is owed, any employer faced with the situation must consider the means inability to control the employee’s conduct. If the employer did not have the means or ability to control the employee, there is absolutely no duty owed. In Collis, the employer had no ability to control the employee who was off duty and off premises at the time of the incident. The employer also did not provide mobility, did not encourage the employee to drive and did not contribute to the condition that made it unsafe the employee to drive. It is also critically important to evaluate whether the employer contributed in any way to the employee’s intoxication.

In the Thompson case, the employee ingested several doses of a liquid form of drug before reporting to work. He appeared tired and slow, and a manager told him to clock out in and his shift early. On his way home, the employee was involved in a car accident. The trial court granted summary judgment holding defendant had no duty to prevent the employee from leaving the premises in his own vehicle. The Court of Appeals affirmed finding the employer never had control of the vehicle and therefore had ability to provide mobility to an intoxicated employee.

This reaffirms our long-standing policy for all businesses not to take the keys of employees under any circumstances. This is particularly true in the restaurant and bar business. If you have questions or concerns regarding policies and procedures or other best practices, please not hesitate to contact me directly at (615) 630-7727.