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BY ROBIN PAGGI Contributing columnist
If you are an employer who requires employees to use their personal vehicles to conduct business on your behalf, you might be interested in a recent court decision that could expand the scope of your responsibility while those employees are driving to and from work.
According to the legal doctrine of respondeat superior , an employer can be held liable for the actions of an employee if the employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment.
Employers generally cannot be held liable for the actions of employees during their drive to and from work under the workers' compensation "comings and goings" rule, which considers the daily commute to be outside the scope of employment. However, there is something called the "required vehicle" exception, which states that employees are considered to be engaged in the course of employment even while driving to and from work if the employer gains at least an incidental benefit from the employees using their car during the course of the workday.
The recent court ruling in Moradi v. Marsh USA, Inc. determined that the required vehicle exception applies even when employees are engaged in running personal errands during their commute. Court documents on http://law.justia.com state that Marsh employee Judy Bamberger regularly used her personal vehicle to develop new business by meeting with prospective clients away from the office, giving presentations and seminars, and transporting her co-workers and company materials to various locations throughout Southern California.
On April 15, 2010, Bamberger drove some co-workers to a company-sponsored program at a middle school then returned to the office. On her way home from work, she decided to stop for some frozen yogurt and attend a yoga class. While pursuing these personal activities, she struck motorcyclist Majid Moradi, who then sued Bamberger and her employer.
The employer argued that it was not responsible for the accident because Bamberger was not working and was in fact running personal errands at the time of the accident, and the trial court agreed.
However, the appellate court disagreed, saying, "Because the employer required the employee to use her personal vehicle to travel to and from the office and make other work-related trips during the day, the employee was acting within the scope of her employment when she was commuting to and from work. The planned stops for frozen yogurt and a yoga class on the way home did not change the incidental benefit to the employer of having the employee use her personal vehicle to travel to and from the office and other destinations."
So, if you are an employer who requires employees to use their personal vehicles to conduct business on your behalf, you could be exposing yourself to potential liability for the traffic accidents they cause during their regular commute -- even when they stop to conduct personal business along the way. Because this is a very complex area, employers should seek legal counsel for specific advice.
-- Robin Paggi is the training coordinator at Worklogic HR Legal Solutions. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.