Can an Employer Be Liable for Their Employee Drinking and Driving?

employer held liable for employee drinking and driving

When you hire someone to work for you in Alabama, it’s essential to do a thorough background check. Workers can lie on an application, and unless there is a deep dive into their background, you can find you’ve hired someone with a spotty driving record and even someone with multiple DUIs.

As a result, don’t be surprised when an employer who fails to do a thorough background check faces liability for an alcohol-related car accident involving his employee.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 30 alcohol-related car fatalities every day, and some of these are committed by employees on-the-job.  

Specifically, in Alabama, there are four different theories of liability to an employer that can apply. They include:

Respondeat Superior

In English, this term can be translated to “Let the Master Answer,” or in other words, the employer is vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employees. The offense must be committed in line and during the scope of their job.

Here is an example. A driver of a company truck was drinking on the job, even though he was instructed not to, and injured a pedestrian. It doesn’t matter if there is a company policy against doing so.

If the boss instructs the worker on how to do the job, that is the establishment of an employer-employee relationship and the basis for this legal theory to apply.

Negligent Entrustment 

The employer should have known about his employee’s incompetence in this case. For example, if an employee has several DUIs, those records remain on his record for a number of years. If the employer did not research public documents to find this out, part of the fault for any injury, death, or accident that results in a lawsuit, will fall on them.

Whether repeated accidents, DUIs, getting lost, spending time on his phone when he should be concentrating on driving, a truck driver’s record must be recorded by the employer under federal safety rules.  Even if the keys to a truck were given to the employer’s sister, who was not to share them with the unreliable employee-husband, and that untrustworthy worker drove the truck and caused an accident, that trust was ill-placed. The employer may be facing a personal injury lawsuit or even criminal charges.

Once again, what must be determined is whether the employer knew or should have known that there was a problem and allowed the problem to continue.

Negligent Hiring or Retention

A claim for negligent hiring or retention may be brought in coordination with negligent training or supervision. The assumption is that knowledge of the employee’s problems, such as drinking on the job, must have been brought to the employer’s attention, allowing him to remedy the situation had he done an adequate background check before the hire.  

Negligent Training or Supervision

Similar to negligent hiring or retention, a negligent training or supervision claim means the employer failed to supervise or train the employee after learning of a problem. The presumption is that the employer could have intervened before a third party was injured.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are generally not available under negligence theories, but there are a few exceptions. A court would have to determine whether reckless and wanton behavior played a role in continuing to employ someone when it was clear the employee was unfit.

This is particularly true if there was no proper instruction or training and blatant disregard for the safety of others.

Examples of reckless and wanton behavior might include drinking and driving while speeding with no lights on when hitting the plaintiff.

Alcohol On the Job

When an employee is drinking at a company function, it could be argued that it is within the scope of their job, especially if attendance was mandatory or expected. If a traffic-related crash occurs, the employer might reasonably share the liability.

If an employee takes clients out for dinner and drinks as part of his job and gets involved in an accident with injuries, the employer will likely be held responsible in a scenario like this as well.

Injured plaintiffs may recover for their damages such as medical care and hospitalization costs, the cost of ongoing rehabilitation, lost wages, and of their damaged property as well as pain and suffering.

Attorney Chip Nix has three decades of experience representing clients who have been injured through no fault of their own. If you have been injured by a drunk driver or suffered any other type of personal injury in Alabama, call his Montgomery office today at 334-203-6669 for a complimentary consultation on your case.


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