Monday, February 3, 2014

When is an Employer Responsible for a Car Accident Caused by its Employee?

              The California Court of Appeal case Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v. Department of Transportation (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 87, deals with the issue of when an employer is responsible for a car accident caused by one of its employees. The Court of Appeal explained that an employer can only be responsible for an employee’s car accident if the employee was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the car crash.  The case involved an employee who was assigned a company truck to drive. After the employee’s shift at work near Seal Beach, CA ended, he drove in the company truck to meet his wife at a car dealership in Bakersfield in an attempt to purchase a vehicle for his family’s personal use.  He then drove in the truck to a restaurant to have a meal with his family.  On the way back to his job, he was involved in an automobile accident on the 5 freeway southbound as he was beginning to ascend the grapevine.  Six persons suffered personal injury in the accident.  The injured parties sued the employee and his employer, in addition to the Department of Transportation.  The employer successfully filed a motion for summary judgment in the trial court to get out of the case on the ground that it was not responsible for the alleged negligent driving of its employee. 
              The Court of Appeal explained that in order to hold an employer liable for an accident caused by its employee, under a legal theory called “Respondeat Superior”, it must be determined if the employee was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. In other words, there must be a connection between the employee’s negligent action and the employment.  In this case, the employee was not at his employer’s place of business or worksite at the time of the car accident. The automobile accident happened between the employee’s shifts, 120 miles away from his assigned worksite.  In addition, the employee was on a personal trip to meet his wife to purchase a personal vehicle.  He was not performing any services for or running any errands for his employer, and the trip did not further any business activity of the employer.  The Court of Appeal found the trip to be entirely personal to the employee, and outside the scope of his employment.  Because of this, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s ruling in favor of the employer.