The case stems from a Marriott hotel employee who pleaded guilty to causing a fatal DUI crash that killed 33-year-old Jared Purton, an accomplished immunologist from Scripps Research Institute.
Michael Landris was driving over 100 mph on North Torrey Pines Road on December 13, 2009 when he lost control of the vehicle and hit Purton. Purton died at the scene. A year later, Landri pleaded guilty to the fatal DUI and was sentence to 6 years in prison.
Before the crash, Landri, a former bartender for the Marriott, had attended his company's holiday party and had been drinking alcohol provided by the host, according to a lawsuit.
Now, over 5 years since the fatal crash, a judge will hear a case filed by the Purton family claiming the Marriott is partially to blame for the drunken actions of Landri.
“Employers should be more careful about loading their employees up with alcohol,” said Christine Purton, mother of Dr. Jared Purton. “That tragic night in December 5 years ago – [Jared] was killed due to drunken stupidness and the drinks were provided for free at the Marriott. This is why we are here.”
Attorney Jan Ronis, who is not representing either party in the case, told FOX5 the new lawsuit could set a precedent for future parties hosted by employers. It's a precautionary tale of the hazards of unregulated alcohol consumption at company parties.
“You have to be careful about supplying people with alcohol at any function that you’re responsible for and then letting them get on the road," said Ronis. “I’m sure there were supervisors who probably witnessed that he was intoxicated, went out and drove off. It would be pretty difficult to hear Marriott’s defense that they ought not to be liable.”
Ronis said traditionally the law says bars and other establishments that serve alcohol are generally immune to any responsibility for drunken patrons, but in this case there is a distinction.
“This was an employer-sponsored party for employees. It wasn’t as though Marriott was open for business and [the public] were coming in and out and drinking. There is a distinction in this case," Ronis said. “Sounds to me like Marriott is in a tough position.”
The hotel chain says it’s not responsible and is fighting the lawsuit.
Marriott attorneys requested to get the case moved out of San Diego and asked to not allow media coverage.
Jury will be selected on Wednesday.