(CN) – Best Buy had no legal duty to prevent an intoxicated employee from using his own vehicle to leave work, before he crashed into a median and a truck, a Tennessee appeals court ruled.
Christopher Thompson, a Best Buy employee, crashed his car after he was sent home from work for appearing tired and slow -- and unable to operate “Big Joe”, a piece of heavy machinery used to lift boxes in the warehouse, according to court records.
“I’m not sure I can rate someone’s competency on a one-to-ten scale,” Best Buy assistant manager Cory Howell said at trial. “I just made the judgment call that he was not competent enough to operate Big Joe.”
On his way to work that day in March 2014, Thompson had taken a small amount of a drug similar to valium, which he had purchased on the online “grey market,” court records show.
After being sent home, Thompson’s car hit a median wall and a pickup truck, totaling both vehicles.
He sued Best Buy Stores LP for “negligent entrustment”, arguing the store should have stopped him from driving home.
The electronics retail giant argued that it had no legal duty to prevent Thompson from leaving the store in his own car and that Thompson did not “entrust” the store with his own car.
The trial court ruled in Best Buy’s favor, and the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed Tuesday.
Judge Charles Susano Jr., writing for a three-judge panel of the appeals court, said in Tuesday’s ruling that it would be “plainly absurd” to “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.”
Susano referred a similar case cited by the trial court, Lett v. Collis Foods, in which a Waffle House employee showed up to work in “an obviously intoxicated state.” The worker in that case refused a supervisor’s offer for a ride home and ended up wrecking her car and hurting another driver.
In Lett, Waffle House was cleared of liability because the state appeals court found that it did not “contribute to, condone, or seek to accommodate” the employee’s intoxication or her decision to drive herself home.
Likewise, Susano wrote, Best Buy “did nothing to contribute to [Thompson’s] incapacitated state” and had no legal duty to prevent him from “voluntarily getting in his car and leaving his workplace.”
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.