Nov 14, 2013

California Employer Held Liable for Employee’s Car Accident during Stop for Frozen Yogurt and Yoga Class

The Second District of the California Court of Appeal recently held that an employer was liable for a car accident involving one of its employees that occurred after work while she was on her way to grab frozen yogurt and attend a yoga class.

The employee, Judy Bamberger, was an insurance salesperson required to use her 2009 Nissan Maxima to engage in sales and client development.  When Bamberger began her employment with the company, she was provided with a company vehicle to perform her work.  However, during the latter five years of her employment, Bamberger and other salespersons were required to use their personal vehicles for business travel and were reimbursed for business mileage. 

On her way home from work one day, Bamberger decided to stop for frozen yogurt and an evening yoga class.  However, during her attempt to pull into the yogurt shop, she collided with a motorcycle driven by Majid Moradi.  Moradi sued Bamberger and the company. The defendant employer moved for summary judgment contending that it was not liable because Bamberger was “neither at work, nor working, nor pursuing any task on behalf of her employer.”  The court applied the required vehicle exception to the “going and coming” rule—a rule that generally prohibits employers from being liable for accidents that occur during an employee’s commute to and from work.  However, under the “required vehicle exception,” an employer can be held liable if the employee is required to use his/her personal vehicle for work and the use of the vehicle gives some incidental benefit to the employer.  Bamberger used her personal vehicle two to five times a week to attend off-site appointments and meetings, and on the day of the accident she used her vehicle during regular work hours to drive herself and her co-employees to a company-sponsored program.  Additionally, she planned to use her vehicle to travel the next day to meet a prospective client.  Thus, the court concluded that the employer received an incidental benefit from the use of the vehicle and that the activity did not constitute “an unforeseeable, substantial departure from her commute.” 

Moreover, Bamberger’s planned deviation was an act necessary for her “comfort, convenience, health, and welfare.”  Such acts, though strictly personal and not acts of service to the employer, do not render the employee’s behavior outside the scope of his or her employment.  The court then stated that it would have been “unreasonable and inconvenient” for her “to drive all the way home, stop momentarily, turn around, and drive back to the yogurt shop and yoga studio.”

California employers should be aware of the potential liability involved in implementing a policy requiring employees to use their own vehicle for work purposes.  Any policies currently in place should be reviewed, and employers should check whether their insurance policies provide adequate coverage in light of this expanded liability.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact your labor and employment counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.

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