Employers that require their employees to use vehicles for work are potentially liable for employee car accidents during a commute or personal errand, according to a California Court in Moradi v. Marsh, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 736 (Cal. Ct. App. 2013). This means that California employers should assess risk exposures for existing employee drivers, open a dialogue with their employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) carrier and consider proactive measures (e.g., driver safety training and drug and alcohol testing) to prevent accidents.
In Moradi, the employee was required to bring her vehicle to work and to use her vehicle for business-related activities including traveling to visit with clients and making on-site presentations. On one occasion, she used her car to transport her fellow employees to a company event, and later, left work with the intention of going to yoga class and to get frozen yogurt on her way home. During these personal errands, she struck and injured a motorcyclist, who filed claims against both the employee and the employer.
Despite the personal nature of these errands, the court found that this activity was within her scope of employment because she was required to use her vehicle for work. The court reasoned that "required driving" confers a great benefit to employers and thus, personal errands are within the scope of employment because they are a foreseeable part of the employee's required use of the vehicle.
Moreover, employers should anticipate this type of liability when they require employees to use their vehicles for work. Routine trips of this nature do not constitute a "substantial departure" from the employee's typical commute.
The ruling affects an area of employer liability known as respondeat superior liability ("let the master answer"), which makes employers responsible for injuries or damages caused by employees to third parties, so long as the employees acted within the scope of their employment.
Prior to this ruling, most employers had the benefit of the "coming and going" exception, which typically protects employers from liability for accidents that occurred while employees travelled to and from work.
This ruling actually expands employer liability because it reduces the "coming and going" exception to cover only commutes by employees who are not required to use their vehicles and activities that would constitute a "substantial departure" from a typical commute for employees who are required to use their cars for work. Going forward, California employers should be aware that when they require employees to use a vehicle for work, they are potentially liable for accidents that occur when the employee is travelling to and from work, and during any "foreseeable" extensions of their regular commute.
With the expansion of liability on the books, California employers that require their employees to use vehicles for work should reassess their policies and procedures regarding employee drivers. At the very least, employers should consider in-depth background checks and reviews of driving records, which are effective ways to vet employee driver candidates.