Plaintiff was injured while a passenger in a pickup truck involved in a single-vehicle, rollover accident. Plaintiff sued the driver (his father), the corporation that employed the driver, and an affiliated corporation that owned the vehicle. Plaintiff alleged the driver was acting in the scope of his employment at the time of the accident and claimed the defendant corporations were vicariously liable under California’s doctrine of respondeat superior. The defendant corporations obtained summary adjudication of the respondeat superior claim on the ground that the driver, who was returning home late in the evening after attending a family gathering, was not acting in the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.
Scope of employment was a question of fact. Here, the evidence showed defendants required the driver to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond immediately to cell phone calls for repairs and maintenance needed at the ranches, farms and dairies operated by defendants. Also, there was conflicting evidence about whether the driver was required to use the company-owned vehicle, which contained tools and spare parts, at all times so he could respond quickly to call for repairs at defendants’ various locations. Based on this evidence and other details about the driver’s job, a reasonable trier of fact could find the driver was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred.
The appeal court published this decision because it is distinguishable from most other cases involving an employee’s required use of a company-owned vehicle. Usually, those cases involve an employee who is required to use the vehicle only for the commute to and from work but is not required to use the vehicle while off work. Here, a trier of fact reasonably could find the driver’s use of the truck for personal travel after work was dictated by the employer’s requirement. In such circumstances, the risk of the truck’s involvement in an accident is a foreseeable risk that is attributable to the business enterprise under California’s risks-of-the-enterprise principle, which is the primary justification for its respondeat superior doctrine. Consequently, responsibility for that risk is best allocated to the enterprise, which is able to spread the risk (and actually did so) by obtaining insurance.
The doctrine of respondeat superior holds an employer liable for torts of its employees committed within the scope of their employment. (Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v. Department of Transportation (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 87, 93–94; Rest.3d Agency, § 7.07, subd. (1), p. 198; Rest.2d Agency, § 219, subd. (1).
Conceptually, California’s doctrine of respondeat superior is justified by public policy considerations relating to the allocation of risk. (Hinman v. Westinghouse Electric Co. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 956, 959; Halliburton, supra, 220 Cal.App.4th at p. 94.)
An employee’s conduct is within the scope of his employment if the act performed was (1) required or (2) incident to his duties. (Halliburton, supra, 220 Cal.App.4th at p. 94.)
The appeal court therefore reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings.
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Robert Rodriguez has litigated well over 100 family law cases and civil litigation matters including personal injury motor vehicle cases, dog bite and slip & fall cases, breach of contract, defamation & invasion of privacy, fraud, unfair business practice, malicious prosecution, wrongful termination, workplace and employment matters including sexual harassment, wage & hour violations, discrimination pursuant to the FEHA, Gov’t Code §§ 12940 et seq., violations of the FMLA & Pregnancy Leave, Civil Rights discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the State of California and California federal district courts.
* Disclaimer – Robert Rodriguez is licensed to practice only in the State of California & this analysis is applied only under State of California law. Robert D. Rodriguez is also admitted to practice in the U.S. District Courts, Central, Northern & Eastern Districts of California. Robert Rodriguez has practiced in the State of California Court of Appeal.