Employer Found Potentially Liable For Employee's Conduct After Work

In an opinion last month that did not receive much attention on the employment-law front was the case Lobo v. Tamco, which has huge ramifications for California employers. At issue was if the employer, Tamco, could legally be held liable for one of its’ employee’s negligent driving while he was on his way home. The court found that the employer could be held liable under an exemption to the “going-and-coming” rule.

This case was filed by Daniel Lobo’s wife and minor child. Mr. Lobo was a deputy sheriff who was killed by the allegedly negligent driving of Luis Duay Del Rosario who had just left work and was driving home. The officer was on a motorcycle, and was apparently responding to a call with his lights and sirens on, when the two collided. The family members sued Mr. Rosario’s employer (most likely because Mr. Rosario does not have any assets). The employer argued that because Mr. Rosario was going home, there could be no liability on its part. The court disagreed.

The “going-and-coming” rule and its exception

The court explained that normally employers are not liable for employee’s acts when they are not in the “course and scope of employment”:

Under the theory of respondeat superior, employers are vicariously liable for tortious acts committed by employees during the course and scope of their employment. [citation] However, under the “going and coming” rule, employers are generally exempt from liability for tortious acts committed by employees while on their way to and from work because employees are said to be outside of the course and scope of employment during their daily commute. (Huntsinger v. Glass Containers Corp. (1972) 22 Cal.App.3d 803, 807 [Fourth Dist., Div. Two] (Huntsinger).)

The court, however, also explained that there is an exception to the general rule:

“A well-known exception to the going-and-coming rule arises where the use of the car gives some incidental benefit to the employer. Thus, the key inquiry is whether there is an incidental benefit derived by the employer. [Citation.]” (State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Haight (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 223, 241.) This exception to the going and coming rule, carved out by this court in Huntsinger, supra, 22 Cal.App.3d 803, has been referred to as the “required-vehicle” exception. (Tryer v. Ojai Valley School (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 1476, 1481.) The exception can apply if the use of a personally owned vehicle is either an express or implied condition of employment (Hinojosa v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (1972) 8 Cal.3d 150, 152), or if the employee has agreed, expressly or implicitly, to make the vehicle available as an accommodation to the employer and the employer has “reasonably come to rely upon its use and [to] expect the employee to make the vehicle available on a regular basis while still not requiring it as a condition of employment.” (County of Tulare v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 1247, 1253.)

But what if the employee rarely uses their car for company business?

It does not matter how frequently or infrequently the employee uses their car for company purposes to establish the exception.  Here, the employer argued that the exemption to the going-and-coming rule did not apply because Mr. Rosario rarely used his care for company purposes. The evidence was that he only used his car 10 times or fewer during the 16 years he worked for Tamco. The court was not persuaded by this argument, and noted that there was not case law to support the argument. The fact that Mr. Rosario sometimes needed to use his car for company purposes was sufficient to establish the exception to the going-and-coming rule.

This case should be a call to employers to review if they require their employees to use their personal cars for work, and if this could create potential liability for the employer even though the employee is driving to or from work. 

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