California Legal update re Going and Coming Rule

We are pleased to update you about a recent California legal development.  On September 16, 2016, the California Court of Appeal ruled that a defendant employer was not responsible for its employee’s negligent vehicle operation while commuting home from work.  Attached is a copy of Jorge v. Culinary Institute of America, 2016 Cal. App. LEXIS 771 (Sept. 16, 2016). This is a favorable ruling for insurance companies and employers.  This decision reaffirms the “going and coming” rule that employers are generally not liable for damages caused by their employees’ negligent conduct on their commute to and from work.

In this case, plaintiff, a pedestrian, was struck by a car driven by a chef instructor employed by defendant, the Culinary Institute of America, while commuting home from work.  At trial, plaintiff argued that the defendant required the employee to use his personal vehicle to accomplish his job duties.  This rule is often referred to as the “required vehicle” exception. 

At trial, the jury determined the employee was acting in the scope of his employment and therefore defendant was also liable for plaintiff’s damages.  The jury awarded plaintiff more than $885,000.  Defendant asked the court to enter judgment in its favor despite the verdict because there was no evidence that the employee was acting in the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.  The trial court denied defendant’s request.

Defendant appealed the trial court’s order denying its motion.  The appellate court agreed with defendant and ordered the trial court to enter judgment in favor of defendant.  The court found that the evidence established comprehensive facts showing that the “required vehicle” exception did not apply, even though the employee used his personal vehicle extensively to carry out his work duties. 

The court based its decision on the following facts: 

(1) defendant’s chef instructor employees were never told to use their private vehicles for any purpose;

(2) employee did not need a car for any purpose on the days he fulfilled his regular chef instructor duties;

(3) employee commuted from home to work and back in his car as a matter of convenience, but he could have taken public transportation, carpooled, or been dropped off;

(4) employee’s supervisors testified that they did not know, and had no reason to know, how employee arrived at work each day;

(5) employee was not paid for his commute time to or from work;

(6) he was never required or asked to run errands on his way to or from work;

(7) there was no evidence that employee was impliedly required to use his car to fulfill any of his work obligations;

(8) employee was not required by defendant to use his car for extensive off-campus travel to conferences, retreats, seminars or consulting jobs on behalf of defendant;

(9) there was no evidence employee needed to have his car available during his work day in order to perform his duties;

(10) employee’s use of defendant’s travel expense form to seek reimbursement for miles traveled to an off-campus work site was not evidence of an implied requirement that he have his car available to fulfill his duties during the work day;

(11) employee’s compensation for travel time to and from off-campus events did not change the fact that he was not compensated for his home-work commute;

(12) employee was not required to use his private vehicle for any reason including transportation to off-campus work commitments;

(13) employee’s commute home when the accident happened lacked any imaginable connection to the performance of his duties at defendant’s Culinary Institute; and

(14) employee’s use of his car to transport his chef’s knives and jackets to and from defendant’s campus, to off-campus work commitments, and, in the case of his soiled chef’s jackets, to the cleaner, did not extend liability to defendant because such cartage is common and must be viewed as incident to the commute rather than as part of his employment.

This decision should support insurers and employers when they are defending lawsuits arising out of insureds’ and employees’ negligent conduct while commuting to or from work regardless of the extent of use of their personal vehicle for work-related purposes.  As this case demonstrates, the relevant inquiry is the extent to which the use of the employee’s personal vehicle is actually or impliedly required by his or her employer to carry out work related duties.  If there is no such requirement and the employee was simply commuting to/from work, the employer should not be vicariously liable for damage caused by the employee’s negligent conduct while commuting.

The information herein is provided for consumer educational purposes only.  The statements contained herein are general statements of law, as of the date stated, and there may be exceptions that are not set forth below, or changes due to later legislative developments and/or newer case law.  The Nicolson Law Group does not suggest that any provision contained herein will or must apply to any specific issue or case.  For legal information and advice for any particular matter, you are encouraged to consult advice from one of Nicolson Law Group’s licensed attorneys.