California Court Applies Going and Coming Rule in Lawsuit Involving Oil Rig Employee’s Vehicle

The California Court of Appeal recently addressed the issue of whether an employer can be held liable for injuries caused by an employee under the doctrine of respondeat superior.  In this unpublished opinion, the court assessed whether the going and coming rule applied to an employee who provided two other employees a ride to their employer-paid hotel and caused a traffic accident as they were driving home from work.

The trial court in this case applied the going and coming rule after the employer moved for summary judgment and the plaintiff moved for summary adjudication.  The court had focused on the facts that the employees were responsible for arranging and paying for their transportation from the employer-provided hotel to the job site, the employer had not required employees to rideshare or carpool, and the employer did not benefit, even incidentally, from the ridesharing arrangement of the employees.

The employer in this case was Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. (H&P), a company that operates oil drilling rigs, including those in Kern County.  Employees work a shift, called a “hitch” for the drilling rigs, which is a 12-hour day for 14 days, followed by 14 days off. The defendant employer provides hotel arrangements, should the employees want to stay close to the drilling site.  Employees are responsible for paying for their transportation to and from the hotel and the job site.

On December 12, 2011, after the end of a shift, Luis Mooney was returning home and giving Ruben Ibarra and Mark Stewart a ride to the hotel. Mr. Mooney’s route from his home to the job site took him past the hotel.  While driving about 13 miles from the site of their oil rig, Mr. Mooney’s vehicle collided with plaintiff Brent Pierson’s. The accident took place when Mr. Mooney crossed the double yellow line into a lane of oncoming traffic at an intersection.  Both drivers were pinned in their cars, and Mr. Mooney sustained major injuries.  Mr. Pierson, Mr. Ibarra, and Mr. Stewart were taken by ambulance to Kern Medical Center.

Mr. Ibarra, the crew driller and therefore Mr. Mooney’s supervisor, arranged for his own transportation from the hotel to and from the job site. Had he been unable to ride with Mr. Mooney, he would have arranged for alternative transportation.

Mr. Stewart also rode with Mr. Mooney because he did not have a valid driver’s license. Mr. Mooney did not request reimbursement for the rides, and H&P did not reimburse Mr. Mooney or any of the men for their travel expenses.

In January 2012, Mr. Pierson and his wife filed a personal injury action against Mr. Mooney, later adding H&P as a defendant.  Mr. Pierson alleged that Mr. Mooney acted within the course and scope of his employment.  Mr. Pierson’s employer then intervened, alleging that Mr. Mooney was employed by the defendant H&P, acting within the scope and course of his employment with H&P.

H&P then moved for summary judgment, arguing that Mr. Mooney was not in the course or scope of his employment but was driving home from work.

The trial court granted summary judgment for H&P, applying the going and coming rule. After a judgment was entered, Mr. Pierson filed a timely notice of appeal.

The appellate court stated that a motion for summary judgment must be granted when the papers show no triable issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Here, the issue was a respondeat superior theory of liability against H&P on the ground that Mr. Mooney had been acting within the course and scope of his employment when the collision took place.  Next, the moving party, H&P, set forth facts showing that the going and coming rule applied. In opposition, Mr. Pierson alleged that the facts were insufficient to show the going and coming rule applied, and material facts remained regarding the “required vehicle” and “special errand” exceptions to the going and coming rule.

The court stated that the respondeat superior doctrine makes an employer liable for the torts committed by employees in the scope of their employment.  The going and coming rule is a corollary of the respondeat superior doctrine, and it holds employees do not act within the scope of employment while going to or coming from the workplace.  The court also pointed out the differences between the analysis in workers’ compensation cases and tort cases.

There is no formula for the going and coming rule, the court stated. The court reviewed the rule and its exceptions in the context of traffic accidents caused by employees of oil drilling rigs who are carpooling.

The long shifts and remote work locations that are unique to oil drilling rigs have led to many car accidents involving employees. The court stated that they would not explicitly determine whether an exception to the going and coming rule should apply to drilling companies or oil rig workers. Generally, the factors that are relevant to the application of the going and coming rule include the role of the employer in carpooling arrangements, any payments the employer makes to employees for time or expenses in commuting, the employer’s control over the commute, and the location of the accident compared to the route the driver would take if not transporting other employees.

Turning to the required vehicle exception, the court stated there was no triable issue of material fact regarding an implied requirement H&P imposed on Mr. Mooney.  This would apply if the facts indicated that H&P implicitly required that Mr. Mooney transport members of the crew to and from the work site in his personal vehicle.

The court also analyzed the special errand exception, which holds that an employee who is on a special errand as part of his duties or at the request of the employer will be considered within the scope of employment. An example might be delivering mail to a post office on the way home from work.  In this case, the issue was whether Mr. Ibarra’s request to Mr. Mooney for a ride to and from the job site could be imputed to the employer, H&P. The appellate court stated it was H&P’s burden to show that Mr. Ibarra was acting on his own behalf when he requested rides.  The court relied on the facts and evidence in support of its finding that there was no triable issue of material fact regarding the existence of an implied requirement placed on Mr. Mooney by H&P.

In closing, the court stated that Mr. Pierson’s facts and evidence related to Mr. Ibarra’s conduct rather than the conduct of H&P.  The company hired Mr. Ibarra as the supervisor of one of the crews. The court stated there was no reasonable basis to infer H&P’s conduct caused crew members to believe that Mr. Ibarra’s requests for rides were related to or made on behalf of H&P.

The court affirmed the judgment granting summary judgment.

The car accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm represent injured individuals throughout Southern California who seek compensation following an accident. Our office provides a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Employee’s Negligence Claim Against Employer Barred by Workers’ Compensation Act, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 5, 2016

California Court of Appeals Holds that Evidence Sustains Jury’s Verdict that Railroad Company was Not Negligent, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog,May 2, 2016

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