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Wong-Leong v. Hawaiian Refinery, Independent Inc, 879 P.2d 538

Hawaii Supreme Court






Vicarious Liability




Respondeat Superior

Quick Notes

When Respondeat Superior Applies 



o         Whether Rellamas acted negligently by drinking while aware that he had to drive?  Yes

o         Whether Rellamas was the proximate cause of the four deaths?  Yes

o         Whether the act of drinking at his promotion party was within the scope of Rellamas employment?  Yes

o         Whether the party further a business purpose sufficient to impose respondeat superior liability?  No




o         The court concluded that there was no factual basis upon which a reasonable trier of fact could find that the Df employer either knew of had reason to know of the need for and the opportunity to exercise control over its employee


o         The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the trial court.





o         Pl - Wong-Leong

o         Df - HIRI

What happened?

o         Rellamas crashed into a car carrying 4 people in which they were killed.

o         Rellamas had consumed alcohol and MJ.

o         He was at his own party celebrating his promotion in which beer was consumed at work between 6pm 7:30pm.

o         The accident occurred at 8:30PM on his way home.

Affidavits and Depositions

o         At HIRI consumption of beer took place daily.

o         There was a regular occurrence of pau hana(end-of-work) parties on Friday of every month, playing horse shoes almost daily, and mini parties for promotions, birthdays, babies, vacations, and other similar events.







Respondeat Superior

o         An employer may be liable for the negligent acts of its employees that occur within the scope of their employment.


Scope of Employment (In Henderson)

o         To recover under the respondeat superior theory, the Pl must establish:

  1. A negligent act of the employee, in order words, breach of a duty that is the legal cause of the Pl - injuries.
  2. That the negligent act was within the employees scope of employment.

o        Whether the enterprise of the employer would have benefited by the context of the act of the employee BUT FOR the unfortunate injury?

o        Whether the employers risks are incident to the enterprise?


Respondeat Superior Claim (Costa)

o         A Respondeat Superior claim may be predicated upon the actors allegedly negligent act of drinking while aware of the need to drive, provided that the act takes place within the scope of employment.


First Requirement Discussion (Negligent act of the employee)

o         There is sufficient evidence to support a jury finding that Rellamas breached his duty.  He BAL was at .80% and he consumed MJ.


Second Requirement Discussion (Scope Of Employment)

o         A reasonable trier of facts could infer that the promotion party was a custom incidental to the enterprise rather than a purely social function.

o         The maintenance manager said parties are a morale builder.

o         The shift supervisor said horseshoes is for the employees.

o         The maintenance managers testimony supports a reasonable inference that the presence of alcohol was a crucial ingredient of these parties.


Trial Court

o        Holding that there was evidence and allegations that supported a claim for respondeat superior, because the party had been organized for the benefit of the employer and the participation by the employee could be considered within the scope of employment and the consequences of drinking at the party were that the employee may drive home intoxicated, which was reasonably foreseeable by the employer.

o        The court further held that the employer had no duty to control the activities of the employee after the employee left the scope of employment, because the employer could not be held liable as a social host.



o       The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the trial court for a trial, because the employer had liability under the theory of respondeat superior, based on the evidence and allegations that showed that the company party was for the benefit of the employer, but there was no liability on the employer as a social host for failing to control the employee's conduct after he left the company party.


Class Notes

o         Vicarious liability involves no fault on the part of the employer


o      For vicarious liability to APPLY, the employee must be DIRECTLY liable.


Elements of Vicarious Liability for Respondeat Superior:

o        The employee must be directly liable for the injury; and

o        The employee must have been acting within the scope of his employment.



o         The company benefited from the working drinking parties, and thus these parties were within the scope of the employees work


Reasoning (Direct Liability Test)

o         An alternate argument is that the employer was DIRECTLY LIABLE.

o         This failed because the court reasoned that they had no idea that they even needed to do anything.


(From the Fruit Case)

Control Theory

o         Finds liability whenever the act of the employee was committed with the implied authority, acquiescence [passive assent] or subsequent ratification [to approve] of the employer.


Enterprise Theory

o         Finds liability whenever the enterprise of the employer would have benefited by the context of the act of the employee BUT FOR the unfortunate injury.