When an employee is driving to work and negligently injures another person, is the company liable for the employee’s negligence in California?
That was the subject of a recent California Court of Appeal decision in Sumrall v. Modern Alloys, Inc.
Michael Sumrall, a motorcyclist, was injured when a driver working for Modern Alloys collided with him. The Modern Alloys’ driver was on his way to a company-owned yard to pick up materials for his job repairing a freeway median.
The question the Court decided was whether the yard was the “workplace” or not.
In general, an employee is not acting within the scope of employment while traveling to and from the workplace. But if the employee, while commuting, is on an errand for the employer, then the employee’s conduct is within the scope of employment. (Jeewarat v. Warner Bros., (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 427, 435-436)
In the Sumrall case, the Court ruled that whether the yard was the “workplace”, or whether the job-site at the freeway median where the materials retrieved from the yard would be installed was the “workplace” is a question of fact for the jury.
In other words, if the Modern Alloys’ employee was on a company errand as he was driving to the yard, then company liability would apply.
If the employee was on his way to work because the yard is considered a “workplace”, then the company would not be liable.
A minor distinction can have significant consequences!
For questions about your case involving company or personal liability, the Rabbi Lawyer is ready to assist, 24/6!