Employer Not Liable For Employee’s Negligence While Driving To Work In Company Vehicle

By November 19, 2013Articles

In the recent case of Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v. Department of Transportation, et al., the court of appeal made an important ruling on the ‘incidental benefit’ exception to the ‘going and coming’ rule which permits an employer to be held liable for an employee’s negligence which occurs while commuting directly to work.

In Halliburton, an employee was assigned to work on an oil rig in the ocean near Seal Beach California. During his employment, the employee was assigned a company pickup truck to drive. On the day in question, the employee finished his shift on the rig, returned to shore, got into the company pickup truck, and traveled 140 miles to Bakersfield to meet his family and purchase a car at a dealership. After leaving the dealership and taking his family out to lunch, he began his return trip to Seal Beach. Approximately 20 miles south of Bakersfield, the employee got into an accident when his company pickup truck fishtailed, crossed into oncoming traffic and injured six people. The employer, along with the employee and other parties, were sued for negligence.

Generally, under the doctrine of ‘respondeat superior,’ an employer is liable for the negligent acts of his employees if those acts were committed within the scope of employment. To determine whether the act was within the scope of employment, courts analyze whether the acts performed were either required by the job, incidental to job duties, or whether the employee’s misconduct was reasonably foreseeable by the employer.

However, there are many exceptions to the theory of respondeat superior, including the ‘going and coming’ rule which provides that generally, an employee going to and from work will be considered outside the scope of employment and therefore, liability will not be passed to the employer.

The Plaintiffs in Halliburton argued that the ‘incidental benefit’ exception to the ‘going and coming’ rule applied in this case, which provides that if the employer benefits from the commute, it brings the commute within the scope of employment.

On appeal, the court held that the employer in Halliburton could not be held liable for the employee’s negligence because at the time of the accident, the employee was not acting within the scope of his employment. For the incidental benefit exception to apply, the employee cannot deviate substantially from a direct commute to carry out personal business. In this case, the employee’s 140 mile trip to Bakersfield was a substantial deviation from his commute, and shopping for a car was a personal activity which did not benefit the employer in any way.

To read the case, click here:
Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v. Department of Transportation, et al.