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October 20, 2009 - Suit: Employer Liable for Drunk Employee

Trial is set to begin in Michigan in a lawsuit that claims a company is liable for three deaths caused by a company employee who was driving drunk.

Thomas Wellinger, who had been sent from his office at UGS Corp. to seek medical attention, drove his vehicle at 70 mph into a car driven by Judith Weinstein, killing her and her two sons, ages 9 and 12. Her husband, Gary Weinstein of Farmington Hills, Mich., claims in a wrongful-death suit that USG Corp. had a duty not to let Wellinger leave the premises.

Judith Weinstein and her sons were killed May 3, 2005.

The case poses the issue of whether a company can be found liable for the actions of an intoxicated employee, The Detroit News said Tuesday.

An attorney who represents the company, based in Texas, said the only person culpable is Wellinger, who is serving a 19-30-year jail sentence. The company's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying there was no evidence that Wellinger was visibly drunk at work the day of the crash.

Gary Weinstein's lawyer said it was common knowledge at the company that Wellinger was an alcoholic and that four USG employees described seeing Wellinger drunk at work in the six months leading up to the crash, including that day.

Wellinger's blood-alcohol level was 0.43, nearly six times the legal limit in Michigan, within 45 minutes of his leaving the office before the crash, the newspaper said.

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