California Court of Appeal Holds Employee May Have Been on “Business Errand” Benefiting Employer at Time of Motorcycle Collision

In a recent opinion, the California Court of Appeals held it was a question of fact for the jury as to whether an employee was on a business errand while commuting, and as a result, whether the employer could be liable for injuries to a motorcyclist struck by the employee in a collision.  The general rule, set forth by the court, is that employees are not within the course and scope of employment while traveling to their workplace. However, California law holds that if an employee is commuting and on an errand for their employer, their conduct falls under the scope of employment.

In this case, a construction company, the defendant, paid an employee for the hours he worked at a job site. The company expected the employee to commute to the company “yard” and drive a company truck to the job site, along with coworkers and materials.  While driving from his house to the yard, the employee struck a motorcyclist, who then sued the company.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant company on the basis that the employee had been commuting to “work” and was not acting within the scope of employment. But the issue framed by the appellate court was whether the “workplace” was the yard or the job site. If it was the job site, the employee had been on a business errand that benefited the employer.

In their analysis, the court stated that the employee had been driving his own vehicle from his house to the company yard when the collision took place.  The inference was that this was a normal commute.  Unlike a normal commuter, the employee transported workers, materials, and the company vehicle from the yard to the job site.

Respondeat superior is a doctrine that holds employers legally responsible for their employees’ actions while acting within the scope of their employment.  The policy supporting this doctrine involves preventing accidents and encouraging employers to carry insurance to protect against risks. The court of appeal stated that in California, the scope of employment has been broadly interpreted under the respondeat superior doctrine.

Determining whether an employee is on a business errand that benefits his employer is to be determined by the jury. Employees who are going and coming from work are outside the scope of employment, and employers are not liable for their torts. As an exception to this rule, employees who are on a “business errand” that benefits their employer, while commuting, may be within the scope of employment.

In this case, the court stated there were conflicting inferences that could be drawn from the facts. Whether the employee was in fact on a business errand and acting within the scope of employment cannot be determined in a motion for summary judgment.  The appellate court stated a jury must consider all of the relevant circumstances.

While the defendant company argued that a jury could not find that the employee had been on a business errand, the court disagreed.  First, the court stated the jury must determine if the “workplace” was the yard where the employee first arrived, or was it the job site?  Did it benefit the company to have the employee drive materials and coworkers without being compensated?

The trial court had found that case law did not support a finding that the employee was on a business errand.  On appeal, the court disagreed. Simply because there were no published opinions with facts that resemble those of the case at hand, the court stated, does not mean that the defendant company was entitled to summary judgment.

In summary, the court stated that public policy supports a finding that vicarious liability can attach to the company. If the employee was paid from the time he arrived at the yard, the company could not be liable for his tort prior to arriving at the yard. The court stated that would not be a foreseeable cost of business, but the cost of hauling equipment and vehicles was foreseeable. Here, the employee performed these duties at no additional cost.  According to the Court, the company had assumed the “allocation of risk” under respondeat superior, and the business errand exception to the going and coming rule may apply.

The jury should decide whether the employee was on a business errand that benefited the company at the time of the crash.

The court reversed the judgment.

If you have suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident, the motorcycle accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm can help you seek compensation from the at-fault party. Our skilled lawyers advocate for people injured in collisions throughout Southern California. We provide a free consultation with an experienced lawyer. Call us today at 1-866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Upholds Jury Award to Plaintiff Injured in Motorcycle Collision, Determines Plaintiff’s Statement to His Insurer was Privileged, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2017

California Court of Appeal Holds in Favor of Injured Motorcyclist Hit by Taxi Driver in West Hollywood; Taxi Company Vicariously Liable for Driver’s Acts, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, February 20, 2017

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