A question our attorneys at Porter Simon often ask comes from employers wondering whether they are legally responsible if one of their employees causes an accident that results in injury or death.
What is the liability rule for employers if one of their employees negligently causes an accident?
Driving home from work
On July 16, 2015, Ralph Steger drove to an assisted living facility in his own vehicle to offer voluntary pet therapy to a patient at Kaiser Foundation Hospital. Steger regularly brought his pet therapy dog to visit patients. He wasn't paid but had to have car insurance.
After Steger finished his therapy session with his dog and patient, he drove to a credit union for personal business and then began his drive home. Unfortunately, Steger hit and killed Wyatt Savaikie on the way home while the young man was walking on a zebra crossing.
CASE AGAINST EMPLOYER
Savaikie's parents sued Steger, who was clearly responsible, and the Kaiser Foundation Hospital, his employer, over the theory that Kaiser was responsible for Steger's negligence as an employer.
Kaiser defended the claim that it was not responsible for Steger's accident because he was not at work while he was driving home from work.
COURT SUMMARY GENERAL RULE
The court summarized the general rule: “Based on the“ go and come ”rule, a person is not considered to be in his or her duties when going to or from his / her job / volunteer work. ”
Obviously, Steger, who has returned from work at Kaiser, does not hold Kaiser responsible for an accident caused by him, unless there is an exception.
EXCEPTION TO THE RULE
One of the few exceptions to the “walking and coming” liability rule for employees who drive to and from work is the “Required vehicle use” exception. If Kaiser asked Steger to use his own vehicle for his voluntary pet therapy for Kaiser, Kaiser would be responsible for any injuries he causes, such as the unfortunate death of Wyatt Savaikie.
The evidence in the case showed that Keizer did not ask Steger to drive a vehicle to the therapy center, he was free to ride a bike, walk, Uber, Lyft, or take a taxi. The fact that Kaiser offered to pay for Steger's mileage doesn't mean he has to use his vehicle for his volunteer work.
DECISION FOR EMPLOYERS
The Second Appellate District Court in Los Angeles ruled in favor of the Kaiser Foundation Hospital because Steger was driving home from work and the “Required Vehicle Use” exception was neither applicable nor car insurance was required for Steger. Steger is liable, but not his employer. Employers are mindful.
Jim Porter is an attorney at law with Porter Simon, licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California and Reno, Nevada. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He can be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.