Impaired Driving Accidents & Business Travel - Who is Liable?

By Steve Donovan on May 10, 2023
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Each year, about 1 million arrests are made in the United States for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. But this number is just the tip of the iceberg. A 2020 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey found that 1.2% of U.S. adults drove after having too much to drink within the past 30 days of the survey. This equates to approximately 127 million episodes of alcohol-impaired driving.

As a small business owner, it's important to understand the potential legal and financial consequences of your employees' actions, both in and out of the workplace, and impaired driving is one such action. 

We are often asked whether or not a business can be held liable if one of its employees has an accident while driving under the influence and traveling for work purposes. The short answer is: it depends. 

While there's no universal answer to this question, there are a few key factors that can determine employer liability in this scenario.

RELATED: Employer Liability When Employees Use Personal Cars for Work Purposes >>

Vicarious Liability

First and foremost, it's important to establish whether the employee was traveling for work purposes at the time of the accident. If the employee was driving from their home to their normal place of work, for example, it's unlikely that the business would be held liable for any accidents that occurred along the way. However, if the employee was driving to an off-site work event or traveling for business-related reasons, the situation becomes more complicated.

In general, if an employee is traveling for work purposes and causes an accident while under the influence of alcohol, the business could be held liable for any damages or injuries resulting from the accident. This is known as "respondeat superior" or "vicarious liability," which refers to the legal responsibility that an employer has for the actions of their employees in the course of their work. 

This doctrine holds that employers can be responsible for the actions of their employees if those actions were within the scope of their employment. If an employee was engaged in work-related activities or was driving a company vehicle at the time of the accident, the employer may be held accountable.

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Direct Liability

However, it's also possible for the employer to be held directly liable if they were negligent in their duty of care to prevent drunk driving accidents. For example, if the employer knowingly allowed an employee with a history of drunk driving to operate a vehicle for work purposes, the employer could be held responsible for any accidents that occur as a result.

It's important to note that the laws surrounding vicarious and direct liability vary by state and by circumstance, and each situation is unique. In addition, liability may also depend on the terms of the employment contract, any relevant insurance policies, and the degree of supervision and control that the employer has over the employee.

RELATED: An Employer's Guide to Substance Abuse Policies >>

How to Mitigate Risk

To mitigate the risk of liability in these situations, it's essential for businesses to have clear policies and procedures in place to prevent and respond to drunk driving accidents. These include: 

Background Checks & Drug & Alcohol Testing

This can include conducting background checks on employees and periodically checking driving records, implementing a drug and alcohol testing policy, providing employee training on safe driving practices and enforcing consequences (up to and including termination) for violations of these policies.

Insurance Coverage

In addition, businesses can help protect themselves by carrying appropriate insurance coverage, such as commercial auto insurance or a general liability policy. These policies can help cover the costs of any damages or injuries resulting from accidents that occur while an employee is driving for work purposes.

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Employee Liability

Finally, it's worth noting that businesses aren't the only parties that can be held liable in these situations. In some cases, the individual employee who caused the accident may also be held responsible for any damages or injuries. This can depend on factors such as the degree of negligence or recklessness involved in the employee's actions.


While there's no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether a business can be held liable for an employee's drunk driving accident while traveling for work purposes, there are steps that businesses can take to mitigate the risk of liability. By implementing clear policies and procedures, carrying appropriate insurance coverage and taking steps to prevent drunk driving, businesses can help protect themselves and their employees from the potentially devastating consequences of these accidents.

RELATED: How Opioids Affect Workers' Comp Costs >>

No Legal Advice

The information and materials on this site are provided for informational purposes only. They do not necessarily represent the position or opinions of Axcet HR Solutions or its employees, and they do not constitute legal advice. You should consult with a qualified lawyer of your choice who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any legal matter.

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Written by Steve Donovan

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