Employer Liability for An Employee Accident Occurring During Commute Home?
Topics: Court Decisions
A California Court of Appeal ruled this week that an employer may be held vicariously liable for injuries caused by an employee in a car accident occurring during the employee's commute home from a business conference. In Jeewarat v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., an employee returning home from a three-day business conference was driving his usual commute route when he was involved in a car accident that injured three pedestrians. The injured pedestrians sued the driver's employer, Warner Bros., seeking to hold Warner Bros. responsible for the alleged negligence of its employee. The trial court ruled against the plaintiffs and granted summary judgment in favor of Warner Bros., holding that under the "going and coming rule" an employer cannot be held vicariously liable for accidents occurring during an employee's commute to or from the workplace. The plaintiffs appealed.
The appellate court disagreed with the trial court and reversed the ruling in favor of Warner Bros. The appellate court held that the going and coming rule did not apply because the employee was not engaged in his normal commute home from the workplace at the time of the accident.Instead, the employee was returning home from a business conference, which was more akin to a "special errand" for the employer. Even though the employee drove by his office and took his normal commute route home from there after the conference, the court held that this was not enough to bring the case within the going and coming rule and preclude vicarious liability on the part of Warner Bros. for the alleged negligence of its employee. Under the special errand doctrine, the employee is considered to be acting within the course and scope of employment until he arrives at his destination (home) after completing the special errand.
It would not be surprising if Warner Bros. petitions the California Supreme Court for review of this case. In the interim, California employers should be aware of the potential for liability for commute time accidents by employees attending business-related conferences and events.