In Lynn v. Tatitlek Support Services, Inc., which was filed on February 22, 2017, the California Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District) held that an employer was not liable for an automobile accident caused by its employee because the employee was not acting within the scope of his employment.
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, employers are vicariously liable for tortious acts committed by employees within the scope of their employment. Court decisions have established the "going and coming" rule. Under the rule, employers generally are not liable for tortious acts committed by employees while on their way to and from work because commuting is not within the scope of employment.
However, courts also have recognized exceptions to the going and coming rule. Courts have ruled that the going and coming rule does not apply when the employee's commute provides the employer with an incidental benefit not common to commute trips by ordinary members of the work force.
In this case, the Court of Appeal decided that the facts did not qualify for the incidental benefit exception to the going and coming rule.
Tatitlek Support Services, Inc. (TSSI) provided role players to participate in military exercises at the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms which is located in the Mojave Desert. TSSI recruited role players in Fremont, San Diego and Phoenix. The company provided free round-trip bus service from those cities, but employees were free to drive their personal vehicles to the base. Employees who used their own cars were not reimbursed for their travel expenses. TSSI also hired applicants from other areas.
TSSI hired Sacramento resident Abdul Formoli as a role player. Formoli chose to drive his personal vehicle from his home in Sacramento to Twentynine Palms, rather than make use of the bus services provided by TSSI. Sacramento is more than 500 miles from Twentynine Palms.
When the exercises for which Formoli was hired were completed, Formoli started his drive home to Sacramento. Almost 100 miles from Twentynine Palms, Formoli's car crossed the double-yellow lines on SR-247 and crashed into a pick-up truck driven by Brian Lynn. Lynn and Formoli were killed in the crash.
Lynn's wife and other plaintiffs filed a wrongful death complaint against TSSI. The trial court granted TSSI's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs appealed the trial court's judgment.
The plaintiffs contended that the incidental benefit exception to the going and coming rule should apply to this case because TSSI benefited from role players, such as Formoli, commuting unusually long distances to jobsites at remote locations.
The Court of Appeal disagreed with the plaintiffs. The court observed that the incidental benefit exception to the going and coming rule does not apply in every case where an employee has a lengthy commute.
The court concluded that Formoli's commute did not bestow an uncommon incidental benefit on TSSI. The court explained, "Any benefit to TSSI from the lengthy commute of employees such as Formoli does not amount to a greater benefit than that derived from employee commute trips by ordinary members of the work force. This is even more the case here where TSSI minimized the risk of the long-distance commute by providing employees with free long distance bus transportation from communities where TSSI recruited its employees. TSSI therefore should not be held liable for employees, such as Formoli, who were not from areas where TSSI recruited employees and who chose to commute a lengthy distance by personal vehicle."
A copy of the Court of Appeal's opinion is available at www.courts.ca.gov