When is an Employer Responsible for Accidents on Employees’ Commutes?
California Court of Appeal Reverses $14 million Judgment Against Employer Because Employee’s Vehicle was Not Required at Work on the Day of the Accident
An employer is liable for an accident on an employee’s commute to and from work only if the vehicle was required for work on the day of the employee’s accident, a California appellate court has ruled. In an opinion published Monday, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed an approximate $14 million judgment, finding that an employer was not liable for an employee’s accident during his commute home because the employee’s vehicle was not required for work, nor did the employer obtain a benefit from the vehicle being at work that day.
This opinion is consistent with other recent decisions on this issue and is important for all employers, public and private. Without this distinction, employers could be liable for their employees’ commutes based on occasional or past vehicle work use — essentially turning employers into de facto insurers of public roadways.
In Newland v. County of Los Angeles, the plaintiff, a pedestrian, was injured in a pedestrian versus automobile accident that involved a Los Angeles County deputy public defender driving home from work. In the past, the public defender was occasionally required to drive his vehicle to do his job, but his vehicle was not required for his job on the day of the accident. Additionally, there was no evidence that, on the day of the accident, the County obtained a benefit from the public defender bringing his vehicle to work.
Generally, an employer is not liable for torts committed by its employees during their work commute. One exception to this rule holds employers liable for the employee’s commute when the employee’s vehicle is required for work or the employer obtains some benefit from the vehicle being at work. In reversing the judgment, the court noted that, just because the car was used occasionally for work or was previously required for work, that is insufficient to extend vicarious liability to an employer if the vehicle was not required on the day of accident.
If you have any questions about this opinion or how it may impact your agency, please contact the authors of this Legal Alert listed to the right in the firm’s Municipal Law practice group, or your BB&K attorney.
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