California Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Favor of Employer When Inference Could be Drawn that Employee Was Within Scope of Employment at Time Plaintiff was Injured

The California Court of Appeal recently reversed a summary judgment that had been granted in a California bicycle accident case alleging negligence and respondeat superior liability. The facts indicated that while the plaintiff was riding his bicycle, he collided with the door of the defendant’s personal vehicle when the defendant opened the door. The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the defendant and his employer.  The employer moved for summary judgment on the ground that the going and coming rule barred the plaintiff’s claim.  Since the defendant employee did not have a fixed office location but commuted to work as a territory manager, he drove a rental vehicle. The employer argued that the rental vehicle was the employee’s “fixed place of business” and that his commute included going and coming to the rental vehicle.

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The lower court ruled the going and coming rule applied and granted summary judgment because the defendant had been in his personal vehicle when the accident occurred. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the employer had not met its burden of production and that triable issues of material fact remained that defeated the grant of summary judgment.  The court stated that they would consider all of the evidence set forth in the papers to determine if a triable issue regarding a material fact remained.

First, the court stated that respondeat superior requires a plaintiff to prove that a tort was committed within the scope of employment. However, the court stated the going and coming rule makes clear that employees are not acting within the scope of employment when they are going to or coming from work.

The court explained that the policy rationale behind the going and coming rule holds the employment relationship is suspended from the time the employee departs work until they return.  There is no formula used to automatically apply the rule to factual situations.  In this case, the court stated they need not decide the applicability of the rule, since the defendant could have been a traveling salesman, without a fixed place of business.  Since he was in his sales territory at the time of the accident, he benefited the employer and was therefore within the scope of employment.  This would hold the employer liable, since the defendant had been within his employment when the plaintiff was hurt.

Alternatively, the court stated that it could be inferred that the defendant was never working for the employer until he entered his rental vehicle, which was paid for by the employer. Since the accident occurred before he entered his vehicle, he had not been benefiting the employer and was not within the scope of employment.

The court noted that since these two inferences could lead to disparate results, the case is not suitable for determination, and summary judgment must be reversed. A jury should consider the circumstances.

At Sharifi Firm, our bicycle accident lawyers help people who have been hurt by the negligent acts of others. We are skilled at negotiation and litigation techniques that recover compensation for clients throughout Southern California.  To schedule a free consultation, call our office at 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

Employer Not Vicariously Liable for Employee’s Negligence in Causing Fatal Car Crash, Due to “Going and Coming” Rule, According to California Appellate Court, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 2, 2017

California Court Applies Going and Coming Rule in Lawsuit Involving Oil Rig Employee’s Vehicle, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 1, 2016

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