Court Preserves the Plaintiff's Right to a Jury
Is a restaurant responsible for a motel fire accidentally caused by a manager-in-training who was a guest at the motel while he was attending a training seminar? A federal court judge says it is a question for the jury.
The trainee hoped to become a manager for a restaurant. In the summer of 2005, the restaurant put him up at a motel in Danville so he could learn the restaurant business at the restaurant’s location next door. One morning while at the motel, the trainee woke up with a fire burning in his trash can and spreading to his bed. The motel alleges the fire ultimately did more that $300,000.00 in damages.
The motel claims the trainee threw a cigarette butt in the trash can, and the trainee says others had been smoking in his room and dumped an ash tray into the can. The restaurant claims that the trainee was going to be terminated on the same day the fire occurred, and as a result, should not be responsible for the fire in any event.
The restaurant asked a federal court judge to dismiss the case against the restaurant before trial, claiming that it is clear the scope of employment of the trainee did not include what the trainee did in the motel room. Not so fast, said the federal court judge, concluding that Virginia case law is not clear. In Virginia, one must consider the trainee’s motivation to serve the employer in doing what he was doing, whether the act was committed while the trainee was “on the clock,” whether the act was committed while on the employer’s premises, among other factors. Because the law is unclear, the plaintiff’s right to a jury trial should be preserved. The court then preserved the plaintiff’s right to put its case before a jury.
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