Intoxicated Best Buy Worker Can’t Hold Store Liable For Letting Him Drive Home, Crash His Car

Image courtesy of frankieleon

If you show up to work so overly medicated that you won’t remember it the next day, it’s pretty likely that your employer is going to notice and send you home (and maybe tell you to never come back), but if you wreck your car on the way home, can you hold your employer responsible for letting you drive away?

In March 2014, a Best Buy worker in Tennessee says he ordered a liquid version of the sedative estazolam (think of valium and you’re on the right path) from an online “grey market” and then decided to help himself to a couple of drops of the drug before driving to work, and then another drop when he arrived at Best Buy. The employee says he doesn’t remember anything that happened after he clocked in at the store.

After an assistant manager learned that this employee was acting slow and unresponsive, he was told to clock out early and go home. The assistant manager had stopped the employee from using heavy equipment to lift boxes in the warehouse, but did allow him to drive away from the store.

Shortly after the employee left work, he drove into a median, bounced off and into a pickup truck, totaling both vehicles.

While the officer who responded to the scene said the driver — who claimed at the time that his tire must have had a blowout — was responsive and conversed normally, the Best Buy worker’s mother testified that her son was plaintiff was “not making any sense, talking out of his head,” and that she had to have him admitted to a mental health institute for several days. The employee claims to have no memory of this time period.

The driver eventually sued Best Buy, claiming the electronics retailer was negligent for allowing him to drive away in his intoxicated state. Best Buy countered that the store had no legal duty to prevent the employee from leaving the premises in his car, and that Best Buy in fact had no right to exercise any control over the employee’s use of his personal vehicle.

A state trial court agreed with Best Buy, but the employee took his dispute up the legal ladder to a state court of appeals in Knoxville, which this week upheld the ruling that Best Buy can’t be held responsible for letting the employee drive home under the influence.

In its ruling [PDF] the appeals court pointed to an earlier Tennessee court decision in a case involving a Waffle House employee who crashed their car after driving home from work under the influence.

A woman injured in that crash sued the breakfast food chain, but the court ultimately found the restaurant “did not have the means or the ability to control its employee when she made the decision to drive a vehicle in her condition,” nor did Waffle House have the obligation to keep the drunk employee on its premises when she was unable to work.

The appeals panel in the Best Buy case noted that if the Waffle House ruling found that the employer couldn’t be held liable for damages done to an innocent third party, “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.”

Additionally, a Best Buy manager testified that while this employee was told to clock out early, he was not instructed to leave the premises. In fact, according to the manager, employees frequently stick around after clocking out because “We have a nice break room, a nice TV on the wall, DirectTV. A very comfortable environment.”

Finally, the court agreed that Best Buy had no authority to restrict the employee’s use of his own car.

Best Buy, concluded the court, “never had control of the vehicle, so it cannot be said that it entrusted the car to plaintiff.”


Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.