Michigan Jury Hears Case on Employer’s Liability for Drunk Employee

December 2, 2010

Should an employer be held liable for a fatal car crash caused by a drunken driver who was an executive of the firm?

A federal jury in Michigan is hearing the wrongful death suit brought by Gary Weinstein, whose wife and two sons were killed in 2005 when a car driven by Thomas Wellinger crashed into the rear of the car they were in. Wellinger, who was a sales executive for UGS (now Siemens), had a blood-alcohol level of 0.43 at the time of the afternoon accident; the legal limit in Michigan is 0.08.

Weinstein maintains that Wellinger was in the course and scope of his employment when the crash occurred and therefore UGS is liable.

The lawsuit alleges that Wellinger was drunk at the of the time of the accident, which occurred as he was on his way from work to a psychiatrist’s appointment. Plaintiff lawyers claim that the doctor’s meeting was a condition of Wellinger’s employment and that the company knew or should have known he was intoxicated the day of the accident.

However the company, USG, says there is no evidence that Wellinger was visibly drunk on the job before the accident. USG also denies that it knew Wellinger had a drinking problem or that it directed or required the psychiatrist’s appointment. USG says that it has no liability for its employee’s conduct and that Wellinger alone is to blame.

Wellinger is currently serving a prison sentence for second-degree murder.

The case is before a jury in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, where Judge Paul D. Borman is presiding.

Topics Commercial Lines Business Insurance Michigan

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