Mills was convicted of criminal charges related to the accident and sentenced to serve jail time. Greenbaum sued Carroll Air, alleging that the company was vicariously liable for the accident because it encouraged its salesmen to drink with clients and knew or should have known that Mills was drunk and shouldn’t have been driving on the night in question. All of the other Carroll Air employees attending the meeting stayed at a hotel on-site, while Mills opted to stay at his home. After trial, a jury sided with Greenbaum, finding the company liable for $880,000 in compensatory ($80,000) and punitive ($800,000) damages.
The Fourth District affirmed the decision on appeal, finding ample evidence that Mills was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the fatal accident. “Carroll Air told its employees to attend ASHRAE functions because of their business benefits, and several company employees were at this particular regional meeting, including Mr. Carroll, the president,” the court explained. In addition to paying his expenses for the meeting, the company also covered car expenses, such as mileage. Finally, the company encouraged social interaction at meetings and the like as an integral part of obtaining and keeping clients. The company even deducted drink purchases as business expenses.
While the court acknowledged that other courts nationwide have reached different conclusions in similar circumstances, it nevertheless said there are important public policy reasons for holding the company liable. Citing the California Court of Appeals’ 1981 decision in Harris v. Trojan Fireworks, the court explained that the theory of vicarious liability is intended to spread the economic cost of “risk incident to the enterprise.”
Further, the court concluded that the punitive damages award was appropriate here because the company itself was directly negligent due to its actual or constructive knowledge that Mills was drunk and should not have been driving.
Employer responsibility is just one of the potential issues that can arise following an accident. If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, the personal injury attorneys at Canan Law are ready to investigate your case and represent you in and out of the courtroom. We serve clients throughout the region, including in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and Daytona.
Call us at (904) 849-2266 or stop by our offices at 43 Cincinnati Avenue in downtown St. Augustine if you have any questions about automobile accidents or personal injury cases.
Canan Law, the most respected team of attorneys in St. Augustine, keeps you informed with blog posts discussing legal terms and Florida court cases that matter to you. Our firm specializes in auto accidents, personal injury, and medical malpractice cases. Ask your legal question today with our website’s live chat feature!