Sunday, November 10, 2013

Edgewater Motels, Inc. v. Gatzke case brief

Edgewater Motels, Inc. v. Gatzke case brief summary
277 N.W.2d 11 (1979)

In consolidated appeals, plaintiff motel and defendant employee challenged a judgment from the District Court, St. Louis County (Minnesota) in favor of defendant employer notwithstanding a jury verdict that the employee negligently caused a fire in the motel while he was in the scope of his employment. The motel also sought to set aside a jury finding that it was contributorily negligent.

The employee drank four brandy Manhattans and returned to his motel room to fill out an expense report before starting the fire. The trial court set aside the jury's finding that the employee's negligent smoking of a cigarette while filing out the expense report was a direct cause of the fire and that the act occurred within the scope of his employment.


  • On appeal, the court reversed and reinstated the jury verdict. 
  • The court held that an employer could be vicariously liable for its employee's negligent cigarette smoking at the time of his negligent act. 
  • The court further held that it was reasonable for the jury to find the employee acted within the scope of his employment while completing his expense report. 
  • But the court affirmed the finding that providing plastic wastebaskets was contributorily negligent because evidence that a person would dispose of a cigarette in a wastebasket provided a reasonable basis for the jury's finding of proximate cause.
The court affirmed the district court's judgment as to contributory negligence, but reversed and set aside the judgment for the employer, reinstating the jury's determination that the employee was within the scope of his employment at the time of his negligent act.

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