An employee’s estate alleged the employer served alcohol to the deceased during working hours and was therefore liable when she was struck and killed by a train on her way home. How did a court rule?
Susan Salerno worked as a paralegal for Del Mar Financial Service LLC and Gladstone Law Group in Florida. The lawsuit claims the employers maintained a bar on their premises and encouraged employees to drink alcoholic beverages during the work day to entice them to work more hours and get more done.
On June 19, 2013, Salerno became intoxicated at work from the alcohol served by the employers. Other employees escorted her out of the building but provided no further assistance. Salerno walked home, which was ten miles away. As she was walking along railroad tracks, she was struck by an oncoming train and killed.
The lawsuit claimed the employers knew, or should have known, that the deceased was addicted to alcohol because she was required to attend AA meetings.
Salerno’s estate alleged the employers were negligent in serving her alcohol within the scope of her employment but then removing her from the premises without monitoring her safety or providing transportation home. The wrongful death lawsuit claimed it was foreseeable that she would walk and be struck by a train.
The employers sought to get the lawsuit thrown out because Florida law covered only “vendors” not a business that “gratuitously serves alcohol.”
A trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and Salerno’s estate appealed. The estate argued Florida law doesn’t shield employers from liability.
However, in a previous Florida case, a court ruled employers aren’t vendors of alcohol nor could they be considered social hosts (who could also cause them to be liable) in the circumstances of Salerno’s case.
The estate pointed to a case in which an employer was held liable for the actions of its employer for driving while intoxicated and causing a fatal crash.
The appeals court found that case to differ from Salerno’s because the employee was found to be in the course and scope of his employment when the crash happened.
Only once did a Florida court find that an employer may be liable where an employee was injured traveling away from work. A Disney employee was on company property for social purposes. The alcohol he drank had been supplied by Disney. When the employee realized he was too drunk to drive home, he went to his car to sleep. A security guard told the employee to drive off the premises. The employee crashed only 500 feet from the parking lot and suffered injuries.
The appeals court said this case was also different from Salerno’s because the intoxicated driver was ordered to leave the work premises in a vehicle. “The driving of a motor vehicle by an intoxicated person is not only obviously perilous to the driver but to others as well,” wrote the court in the Disney case.
In Salerno’s case, the state appeals court found:
“The deceased was voluntarily intoxicated. The employers did not require her to drink alcoholic beverages, and they did not place her in a dangerous instrumentality. Walking down the railroad track was an act of her own volition and remote from her employment. The accident was tragic, but the employers had no legal duty to the employee under the circumstances.”
The appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision to throw out the lawsuit.
Findlaw reports law firms have “ditched the booze for summer associate events.” Instead they’re offering cooking, spinning and other classes.
The court may not have found the employers liable in this case. Despite that, Susan Salerno lost her life.
(Vincent Charles Salerno v. Del Mar Financial Service LLC; Gladstone Law Group, Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida, No. 4D17-305, 6/6/18)