California Court Holds Target Corporation Not Liable When Employee Left Work and Caused Fatal Car Accident Because Plaintiffs Failed to Show Employee’s Drinking and Resulting Accident Was Foreseeable Occurrence

Recently, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, issued an unpublished opinion in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of two individuals struck and killed by an intoxicated Target Corporation employee after working hours. The issue was whether the lower court had properly held that the defendant’s employer, Target, was not liable under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior.  The plaintiffs contended that it was foreseeable that workers would drink secretly on the job, and a jury could find the driver’s intoxication was incidental to his employment position at Target. The appellate court upheld the summary judgment motion in favor of Target.

Anthony Fragoso worked at the Target in Long Beach, and during his meal break one afternoon, he bought a small bottle of vodka and began drinking. He continued to drink this vodka secretly during meal periods and kept his drinking hidden from Target. After his shift ended that night, at around 11:30 p.m., he continued drinking from his vodka bottle and then drank one and one-half beers while driving a coworker home.

After Mr. Fragoso left his coworker’s house, he drove in the wrong direction of traffic for miles along State Route 91. Ultimately, he collided with a vehicle and killed the decedents, Alan Reyes and Vanessa Cease. Mr. Fragoso’s blood alcohol content was determined to be .23, the equivalent of 11.5 standard drinks.  Mr. Fragoso pled guilty to two counts of felony vehicular manslaughter.

In support of their claim that Target was liable in respondeat superior, the plaintiffs produced an expert, who stated that the high blood alcohol content in Mr. Fragoso’s sample indicated that he had to have been drinking alcohol during his work shift at Target. The plaintiffs also set forth evidence that 15 percent of U.S. workers reported being impaired by alcohol at least once in the last year.

The court granted summary judgment in favor of Target, stating that the evidence showed Mr. Fragoso did not have permission to drink alcohol on the premises, and there was no benefit to Target for his alcohol consumption. The lower court found that Target met its burden of showing it could not be held vicariously liable for Mr. Fragoso’s wrongful, tortious, and criminal conduct.  The plaintiffs appealed.

At issue before the appellate court was whether Target could be held vicariously liable for Mr. Fragoso’s actions through respondeat superior.  This doctrine states that an employer may be vicariously liable for the tortious acts of employees that arecommitted within the scope of employment.  The question, the court stated, is whether the risk is one that is typical of or incidental to the enterprise of the employer.

The court also stated that for respondeat superior to apply, the incident must be an “outgrowth” of the employment, such that the risk of tortious injury is inherent in the workplace. California courts also look at whether the tort was foreseeable from the employee’s duties.

It is not enough, the court stated, for the employment to have brought together the tortfeasor and the victim. There must be a risk of tortious injury that is inherent in the work environment, or typical of or incidental to the employer’s enterprise.

Here, the court stated that the plaintiffs did not supply facts that suggested that Mr. Grasso’s drinking and the resulting motor vehicle accident were incidental to his work at Target. Target prohibited drinking, and Mr. Fragoso drank secretly. The court stated that there was nothing about Mr. Fragoso’s role at Target that made drunk driving a foreseeable occurrence because, the court stated, drunk driving is not incidental to being an electronic salesperson.

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that the court employed the wrong standard to decide whether Mr. Fragoso’s drinking fell within the scope of this employment.  The court stated that they need not determine the test applied by the lower court, since they held that the judgment was correct.

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of Target.

The car accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm provide guidance and representation to victims throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation. Contact our office today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Appellate Court Holds Jury Reasonably Rejected Plaintiffs’ Accident Claims, Based on Finding that Testimony was not Credible, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, September 13, 2016

California Court of Appeal Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Car Accident Lawsuit When Evidence Fails to Show Plaintiff’s Consent to Settlement Agreement, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 9, 2016

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