The theory of respondeat superior makes employers vicariously liable for wrongful acts committed by employees during the course and scope of their employment. However, the “going and coming” rule generally exempts employers from liability for wrongful acts committed by employees while on their way to and from work, because employees are said to be outside of the course and scope of employment during their daily commute. A well-known exception to the going-and-coming rule arises if the use of the car gives some incidental benefit to the employer. Thus, the key issue becomes whether the employer derives an incidental benefit from the employee’s use of the car. This has been referred to as the “required-vehicle” exception. The exception can apply if the use of a personally owned vehicle is either an express or implied condition of employment, or if the employee has agreed, expressly or implicitly, to make the vehicle available as an accommodation to the employer, and the employer has “reasonably come to rely upon its use and [to] expect the employee to make the vehicle available on a regular basis while still not requiring it as a condition of employment.”
For example, Section 401.011(12) of the Texas Labor Code, which codifies this general rule, states:
Course and scope of employment means an activity of any kind or character that has to do with and originates in the work, business, trade, or profession of the employer and that is performed by an employee while engaged in or about the furtherance of the affairs or business of the employer. The term includes an activity conducted on the premises of the employer or at other locations. The term does not include:
(A) transportation to and from the place of employment unless:
- the transportation is furnished as a part of the contract of employment or is paid for by the employer;
- the means of the transportation are under the control of the employer; or
- the employee is directed in the employee’s employment to proceed from one place to another place; or
(B) travel by the employee in the furtherance of the affairs or business of the employer if the travel is also in furtherance of personal or private affairs of the employee unless:
- the travel to the place of occurrence of the injury would have been made even had there been no personal or private affairs of the employee to be furthered by the travel; and
- the travel would not have been made had there been no affairs or business of the employer to be furthered by the travel.
In insurance policies, the general definition describes coverage, and travel must meet both its components to be in the course and scope of employment. Subsections (A) and (B) are exclusions, each followed by exceptions. Subsection (A) has three, disjunctive exceptions; if any one is met, the exclusion does not apply, and travel to and from work is not excluded from the course and scope of employment. Subsection (B) has two, conjunctive exceptions and applies unless both are met. Subsection (B) is somewhat convoluted. More simply put, it does not exclude work-required travel from the course and scope of employment merely because the travel also furthers the employee’s personal interests that would not, alone, have caused him to make the trip.
A recent California case, Lobo v. Tamco, 182 Cal. App. 4th 297 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2010), interpreted this standard very broadly. Here are the facts of this case:
“Daniel Lobo, a San Bernardino County deputy sheriff, was killed on October 11, 2005, as the result of allegedly negligent operation of a motor vehicle by defendant’s employee Luis Duay Del Rosario, while acting in the course and scope of his employment by defendant Tamco. Del Rosario was leaving the premises of his employer, Tamco. As he drove his car out of the driveway and onto Arrow Highway, he failed to notice three motorcycle deputies approaching with lights and sirens activated. Deputy Lobo was unable to avoid colliding with Del Rosario’s car and suffered fatal injuries.
“Deputy Lobo’s widow, Jennifer Lobo, filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of herself and the Lobos’ minor daughter, Madison. Kiley and Kadie Lobo, minor daughters of Deputy Lobo, filed a separate wrongful death action through their guardian ad litem. Both suits alleged that Del Rosario was acting within the course and scope of his employment by Tamco at the time of the accident…..
“When Del Rosario left Tamco on the day of the accident, he was going home. However, if he had been asked to visit a customer site, he “would have gotten in [his] car and used [his] car to go to that facility,” just like on any other day. He kept boots, a helmet, and safety glasses in his car.
“This evidence is clearly sufficient to support the conclusion that Tamco requires Del Rosario to make his car available whenever it is necessary for him to visit customer sites, and that Tamco derives a benefit from the availability of Del Rosario’s car. Tamco, however, emphasizes that it was rare that Del Rosario visited customer facilities or jobsites, and contends that in all cases in which the “required-vehicle” exception to the going and coming rule has been found applicable, driving was an “integral” part of the employee’s job and that Del Rosario’s occasional use of his own car to visit customers is insufficient as a matter of law to invoke the exception.
“Tamco has not cited any case in which a court has addressed a contention that the employee’s use of his own car was too infrequent to warrant application of the exception and we have found none. “
Lesson learned. Realize that allowing employees to use their personal vehicles on company business can expose you to liability. Make sure that employees know the parameters and have good driving records, and make sure there is plenty of insurance to handle any possible claims.