California Appeals Court Holds Substantial Evidence to Support Contrary Finding Does not Compel Conclusion of Insufficient Evidence Supporting the Judgment

In a California Court of Appeal case, the court addressed whether an employer was liable for an employee’s car accident under the “special errand” exception to the rule that an employer is not liable for an employee’s negligent and wrongful acts if they are committed while going to and coming from work.  The victim of the car accident argued that the collision took place while the employee was in the course and scope of his employment.  The appellate court reviewed the trial court’s judgment under the manifest error standard, analyzing whether the appellant sufficiently demonstrated error.

Melvin Gatica worked for Gateway Insulation, Inc., located in Valencia. Early in the workday, he was sent to a job site in Lancaster.  Mr. Gatica drove his personal vehicle to Lancaster. He left the Lancaster job site at 5:26 p.m. and drove on a two-lane road. While turning a curve, he crossed the double-yellow line and crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by Nadja Rayii.  Ms. Rayii suffered severe injuries.

Ms. Rayii brought a personal injury complaint against Mr. Gatica for negligence, later naming Gateway as a defendant. Ms. Rayii moved for a directed verdict against Gateway, on the grounds that Mr. Gatica had been on a “special errand” for Gateway at the time of the collision.  She maintained that he was within the scope of his employment. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury returned a special verdict, finding (among other things) that Mr. Gatica had not been in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his injury.  Ms. Rayii moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict as to Gateway. After the trial court denied her motions, Ms. Rayii appealed.

On appeal, the court stated that simply citing evidence to contradict the jury’s finding was insufficient.  The rule is that an appealed judgment is presumed to be correct, and the appellant must affirmatively show error. Ms. Rayii referenced Mr. Gatica’s testimony and argued that the evidence demonstrated Mr. Gatica had been returning to Gateway’s warehouse from the job site in Lancaster.  She argued he was clearly on a special errand for Gateway.

The court noted that substantial evidence supported the finding that Mr. Gatica was not acting in the course and scope of his employment. He had been sent from the Valencia warehouse to the Lancaster warehouse early in the morning, at around 10:00 a.m.  The collision took place at 5:26 p.m., on a road that led to the Valencia warehouse as well as to his own home. Furthermore, Mr. Gatica’s supervisor did not expect him to return to the Valencia warehouse at the conclusion of the work day.  There was no company policy requiring workers to return to the warehouse at the end of the day. The appellate court stated that the jury could reasonably find the Lancaster job was not in fact a “special errand.” The jury could find that Mr. Gatica was not returning to the warehouse when the collision occurred but was in fact en route to his house.

The court also stated that an appellate who fails to discuss the evidence supporting the judgment cannot demonstrate the evidence is insufficient. Here, Ms. Rayii had argued there was sufficient evidence for the jury to hold Mr. Gatica had been in the course and scope of his employment. But she had ignored the evidence supporting the jury’s finding.  The court stated that when there is substantial evidence  to support a contrary finding, it does not mean that there was no substantial evidence to support the judgment. Ms. Rayii had shown no error, and the judgment and the order denying the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict were affirmed.

At Sharifi Firm, our attorneys provide guidance and representation to Southern California car accident victims in claims for compensation. Call us today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Upholds Verdict Despite Improper Testimony and Misconduct by Attorney, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, October 28, 2015

California Appeals Court Remands for New Trial in Car Accident Case Involving Issues of Credibility, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 17, 2015

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