Law Review: When employer is responsible for employee’s driving accident
A question that is often asked of our lawyers at Porter Simon comes from employers who ask whether they are legally responsible if one of their employees causes an accident with injuries or deaths.
What is the rule of liability for employers when one of their employees negligently causes an accident?
DRIVING HOME FROM WORK
On July 16, 2015, Ralph Steger drove to an assisted living facility in his own vehicle to provide volunteer pet therapy to a Kaiser Foundation Hospital patient. Steger regularly brought his pet therapy dog to visit patients. He was not paid but was required to have car insurance.
After Steger finished his therapy session with his dog and the patient, he drove to a credit union to conduct personal business, then began his drive home. Unfortunately on the drive home Steger struck and killed Wyatt Savaikie while the young man was on foot in a crosswalk.
LAWSUIT AGAINST EMPLOYER
Savaikie’s parents sued Steger, who clearly was responsible, and also sued Kaiser Foundation Hospital, his employer, on the theory that Kaiser was vicariously liable for Steger’s negligence as his employer.
Kaiser defended claiming it was not responsible for Steger’s accident because while he was driving home from work, he was not at work.
COURT SUMMARIZES GENERAL RULE
The trial court summarized the general rule: “Based on the “going and coming” rule, an individual is not considered to be within the scope of his/her duties when going to or coming from his/her place of employment/volunteer work.”
Clearly Steger, who was returning from work at Kaiser, does not make Kaiser responsible for any accident he causes unless an exception applies.
EXCEPTION TO THE RULE
One of the few exceptions to the “going and coming” rule of non-liability for employees driving to and from work is the “required vehicle use” exception. If Kaiser required Steger to use his own vehicle for his voluntary pet therapy work for Kaiser, Kaiser would be responsible for any injuries he causes such as the unfortunate death of Wyatt Savaikie.
The evidence in the case showed that Keiser did not require Steger to drive a vehicle to the therapy site, he was free to ride a bicycle, walk, Uber, Lyft, or take a cab. The fact that Kaiser offered to pay Steger’s mileage does not mean he is required to use his vehicle for his volunteer work.
RULING FOR EMPLOYER
The Second Appellate District Court in Los Angeles ruled for Kaiser Foundation Hospital because Steger was driving home from work and the “required vehicle use” exception did not apply, nor did it matter that Steger was required to have car insurance. Steger is liable, but not his employer. Employers be mindful.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.
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