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Workers' Compensation

Missouri: Court Allows Wrongful Death Claim Against Employer for Intoxicated Employee

An employee of a funeral home drove a company van to a bar, he became intoxicated, and then he died in an accident on the way home. The court of appeals reversed a dismissal of the wrongful death claim from the minor child and surviving spouse against his employer and the company owners. Hays v Francis Royer et al, WD 74772 (Mo. App. 2012)(Sept. 18, 2012), 2012 Mo App Lexis 1163.

The employer, according to the petition, negligently entrusted the company vehicle to an employee known to be incompetent because he habitually drove while he was intoxicated. The court assumes allegations to be true in its review of a motion to dismiss. The employer allegedly knew that the claimant had been treated for alcoholism, that he drank at work, that he habitually drove while intoxicated, and previously he had passed out at work. Claimant could establish negligence if the defendants had a superior right to control the vehicle and had entrusted the vehicle to someone known to be incompetent because he “habitually drove while intoxicated.” This case is distinguishable from negligence arising from the employer directly observing claimant was intoxicated. Under Missouri’s pure comparative fault system, claimant’s recovery is not barred even if he may be more negligent than his employer.

There is no allegations that claimant sustained injuries in the course of his employment. This is a good test case how an employer should address impaired employees or control its policy regarding company vehicles. In this case, the claimant alleges because the employer had meetings to address claimant’s use of alcohol those corrective steps put them on notice of the impairment. The best remedy for an employer in these circumstances is further complicated because the claimant in this case was also a co-owner of the company. The court noted the claim as a matter of law could fail if the employer establishes that the claimant as co-owner had a superior or equal right to control the van.

Source: Martin Klug, Huck, Howe & Tobin. Read Martin Klug's Mo. Workers' Comp Alerts.

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