LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - A court of appeals has sided in
favor of an employer sued by one of its employees who alleged the company derived “incidental benefits” from workers carpooling.
The employer was not liable for a wreck involving its employees after they left a work site for a hotel provided by the company.
"I believe the pendulum is swinging back
slightly in favor of the employer on these cases,” California personal injury attorney Barry Goldberg told Legal Newsline.
this case could have gone either way, actually, but I think, on balance, the
court got it right in this case."
The employee, Luis Mooney, filed the lawsuit following a collision in December 2011. At the time of the collision, Mooney was
driving two of his co-workers, Mark Stewart and Ruben Ibarra, back to their
hotel from an oil rig site in south Kern County in California.
According to court documents,
"Employees are responsible for arranging and paying for their
transpiration to and from the hotel and job site." However, the company that runs the site,
Helmerich & Payne (H&P), had paid for hotel rooms at a nearby Best Western
for employees who lived more than two hours away from the job site.
Mooney, who worked the night shift with Ibarra
and Stewart, lived in Bakersfield and would give them rides in his Ford F250
pickup. Court documents show that the company did not
pay for the ride-sharing nor did they pay for the travel time to and from the
Around 6:30 a.m. Dec. 12, 2011, Mooney’s
vehicle collided with a Chevrolet 2500 pickup, driven by plaintiff Brent
Pierson. The suit says both drivers had to be extracted from their
vehicles by members of Kern County Fire Department.
Mooney was injured and taken to Kern Medical
Center by air ambulance, the suit says, while Pierson, Ibarra, Stewart and a
passenger in Pierson's vehicle were driven by ambulance to Kern Medical
In January 2012, Pierson
and his wife filed a personal injury lawsuit against Mooney. In December 2012 they added H&P as a defendant.
During the case, Travelers Property Casualty
Company of America intervened.
"Travelers alleged Mooney was the
employee of H&P and that he was acting in the scope and course of his
employment with H&P,” court documents stated.
In November 2013 H&P filed a motion for
summary judgment. The trial court granted it in June
The California Court of Appeal for the 5th
District affirmed, stating the going and coming rule
prevented litigation against H&P.
"Under the going and coming rule,
employees traveling to and from work are considered outside the scope of
employment and, therefore, employers are not liable for torts committed during
the employee's commute,"
the 5th District Court ruled.
The court said it backed the
defendant because the employees were responsible for their own transportation
to and from the job site, the employer did not require carpooling by the
employees, and the employer did not derive an "incidental benefit" from
the carpool arrangement.
"It cannot be reasonably inferred from
the undisputed facts that the employer impliedly required or requested the
driver to provide transportation to his supervisor between the hotel and the
job site," the ruling said.
"The supervisor's requests for such rides were personal in nature and
not reasonably imputed to the employer."
Goldberg, who has used the incidental benefit doctrine in cases himself, said in this situation it did not fit.
He said a good
example of incidental benefit that he has used was where "the
employer might ask the employee to use the car to make a sales call or to pick
up an important client."
In this kind of a scenario the employer could receive an "incidental benefit" by the employee having a vehicle and being able to use it for work purposes. However, Goldberg said, "In this case it really was simply going and coming to the job site.”
Goldberg also said the California going and coming exception was not unique to
"I would say California is on the cutting edge of this and has
litigated more of these cases, and so becomes a persuasive authority, but I
would say most states have some version of this," he said.