United States: California Appellate Court Addresses When Employers Are Liable For Injuries Caused By Their Employees

Last Updated: November 10 2011
Article by Helene Wasserman

Under facts never before addressed by a California court, a California Court of Appeal recently ruled that when an on-duty employee injures an individual while engaging in arguably personal pursuits, the employer is still liable for the injuries. Vogt v. Herron Construction, No. E052434 (Fourth Dist., Div. Two Nov. 1, 2011).

Background

Herron was the framing subcontractor on a construction project at which Performance Concrete was pouring concrete. Cruz was an employee of Herron and Vogt was an employee of Performance. Cruz's job did not involve driving, though he drove his personal vehicle to work, and, with permission, parked it at the jobsite.

Vogt requested that Cruz move his personal vehicle while on the worksite. While moving his vehicle, he ran over Vogt. Vogt and his wife sued Herron for the damages that ensued. Herron successfully convinced the trial court that the doctrine of respondeat superior did not apply because Cruz was not acting in the course and scope of his employment when the accident occurred, and summary judgment was granted in Herron's favor.

The appellate court disagreed. The analysis, in part, hinged on why Vogt asked Cruz to move his truck. Vogt testified that there were at least three reasons for the truck to be moved. First, Cruz's truck was blocking the cement truck. Second, Vogt was concerned about liability that could arise if the cement truck damaged Cruz's truck. Third, Vogt asked as "a courtesy" to Cruz. The court held that it was at least "inferable" that the moving of the truck advanced the construction project and, thus, was an "outgrowth" of the employment.

The court further noted that the accident occurred on the worksite, during the workday. Hence, it was hardly unusual or startling that there would be a car accident.

The court evaluated the facts in the context of other similar decisions. Past decisions determined that, where the injurious "act [was] necessary to the comfort, convenience, health, and welfare of the employee while at work," it would give rise to employer liability under respondeat superior. DeMirjian v. Ideal Heating Corp., 129 Cal. App. 2d 758, 764-774 (1954). In DeMirjian, employees were forbidden to smoke on the shop floor, but allowed to smoke in the washroom. An employee who smokes stopped to fill his cigarette lighter with paint thinner (which was provided at work) on his way to the washroom to smoke. He accidentally pressed the lighter button, and started a fire. The court in that case held the employer was responsible for the damage that ensued.

Conversely, the court analyzed Bailey v. Filco, Inc., 48 Cal. App. 4th 1552 (1996), where the opposite result was reached. In Bailey, the employee left the workplace during a paid break to buy cookies for herself and another employee to eat while on duty. Her employer was aware of these "cookie runs." The employee got in a car accident while on this "cookie run." The jury found, and the appellate court affirmed, that the employer was not responsible because, while the employee was on duty (and being paid), the accident did not occur while the employee was at work.

The court in Vogt further determined that, because it was foreseeable that employees who bring their vehicles to a worksite may need to move them during work hours (in this case, to get out of the way of construction), then doing so is part and parcel of the employment relationship.

Note to Employers

The notion of what constitutes "acts necessary for the comfort, convenience, health, and welfare of employees while at work" has greatly expanded over time. While affording workplace smoke breaks has been abolished for the most part due to fire codes and smoking regulations, new acts "of comfort, convenience, health, and welfare" have arisen, such as allowing comfort or service animals in the workplace. One reading of the Vogt case could impose liability on an employer if an employee's comfort or service animal bites an employee or visitor. Employers need to be cognizant of employee conduct, and be certain that legally-mandated injury and illness prevention programs are current and that employees are trained in proper workplace safety. With the new year shortly upon us, it is the perfect time to review your policies and practices with a focus toward ensuring everything possible is done to avoid workplace accidents.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions