Brief Fact Summary.
Robert Maine, a Navy serviceman, was drinking on his day off on base. While Maine was intoxicated, Maine decided to drive to obtain something to eat. As he was driving, Maine collided into a vehicle in which Taber, a Navy construction worker, was inside, causing Taber severe injury. Taber brought suit against Maine and the United States. The court granted the governments motion for summary judgment, and Maine was found liable for negligence. Taber appealed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
When a member of the armed forces becomes intoxicated on base premises and causes an injury offsite, the United States of America may be held vicariously liable.
The Feres doctrine does not distinguish between claims based on the alleged level of culpability of the tortfeasor; whether a negligent, a reckless or even an intentional tort is alleged.View Full Point of Law
On April 13, 1985, Robert Maine, a Navy serviceman stationed in Guam,completed a 24-hour shift and was free to do whatever he wanted to do, including traveling off base. Maine spent the majority of his time drinking with fellow service members at several locations on base. Maine appeared to be drunk when he returned to his barracks at approximately 11:00 p.m. About half an hour later, he chose to drive off the base to get something to eat. While driving, Maine crashed into a vehicle in which Scott Taber was inside of, causing Taber severe injury. Taber was also a Navy construction worker who was off that day. Taber brought suit against Maine and the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act and, regarding the government, liability under the theory of respond eat superior. The government motioned for summary judgment, which the court granted on the ground that respond eat superior did not apply because Maine’s misconduct did not take place in the line of duty. Following a bench trial, Maine was found liable for negligence. Taber appealed.
Whether the United States of America may be held vicariously liable when a member of the armed forces becomes intoxicated and causes an injury offsite.
Yes, the United States of America may be held vicariously liable when a member of the armed forces becomes intoxicated and causes an injury offsite.
Under the principlesrespondeat superior, the United States may be liable for Maine’s negligence. Under Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the government is liable for actions of members in the armed forces when they are done “in the line of duty,” which meansin the “scope of employment.” This case took place in Guam, thus the laws of Guam apply. When the laws of Guam are not clear, the courts are to seek guidance from California courts, which interprets respondeat superior broadly. For example, California courts have enforced vicarious liability for injuries that an employee, who was drinking on the employer’s premises after hours, created as long as the employer expressly or impliedly authorized the activity and the activity was beneficial to the employer. The benefit to the employer is not a difficult element to satisfy and merely showing an improvement in morale or improvement in customer relations may satisfy it.Thus, when an employee’s drinking occurs on the employer’s premises, California law imposes vicarious liability, despite the fact that the harm occurred from intoxication offsite. With that rational, the United States may be held liable for Maine’s negligence because the United States allows its services men to leave base and do whatever they want because it conceivably improves morale and is a customary incident to life on the base. Therefore,ruling in favor of the United States is reversed and the case is remanded.