Suing a Negligent Driver’s Employer as Part of Your California Personal Injury Case

When you’ve been injured by a driver’s negligence, you have several important steps that are before you. You must decide if you will sue, when you will sue, and whom you will sue, among other things. Getting the fullest recovery possible under the law is, in part, based upon making these choices correctly. A recent California Court of Appeal case involving a teenage pedestrian struck along a Northern California road offers some helpful insight on when you may and may not sue a negligent driver’s employer for your injuries.

The case involved a Sonoma County accident that injured 14-year-old Leopoldo Jorge, Jr. The driver, Almir Da Fonseca, struck Jorge and a friend as they walked along the road. At the time of the accident, Da Fonseca was returning home from his job as a chef instructor at Culinary Institute of America.

Jorge initially sued only the driver for the injuries he suffered. Eventually, though, he added Culinary Institute to the case. Jorge contended that, as Da Fonseca’s employer, the institute was liable under the respondeat superior theory of liability. That theory holds employers liable for some of the actions of their employees if an employee was operating in the scope of their employment when their negligence caused the victim’s injuries.

In general, an employer is not liable for an employee’s actions done in the course of going to or coming from work. There is an exception to this “going and coming rule” if the employer requires the employee to drive to and from work so that the vehicle is available during work hours for the employer’s business.

In Jorge’s case, the jury found Da Fonseca liable and also found that he was acting in the scope of his employment with the institute at the time of the accident. Da Fonseca settled with Jorge, and the jury imposed an $885,000 award against the institute.

The institute appealed and won its case. The appeals court pointed out that, on the day of the accident, Da Fonseca was driving home after a day of teaching classes at the institute, which would normally mean that the going and coming rule would apply. Only the “required vehicle” exception to that rule would allow liability to fall upon the institute.

There are two ways an employer can require an employee’s use of a vehicle:  by express demand or implicit demand. The institute never issued any explicit requirement that instructors bring their cars to work or use them for institute business, so Jorge’s case did not have the required evidence he needed to support an express requirement theory of liability.

The appeals court also ruled that no implied requirement existed either. Da Fonseca’s supervisors testified that they never demanded that the instructor use his personal vehicle. In fact, they did not even know how he got to and from campus. The proof in the case indicated that, whenever the instructor used his personal vehicle, he did so out of a desire for convenience, rather than a sense of obligation imparted by the employer. Even if the institute did require Da Fonseca to use his car for extraordinary travel, he wasn’t involved in such a trip when he hit Jorge. “Da Fonseca was simply commuting home from a day of performing his regular duties as a chef instructor,” which was clearly unconnected to his duties at the institute.

When you are weighing all the important topics you must contemplate in your personal injury case, it helps to have experienced legal counsel on your side. The skilled Oakland car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch have helped many auto accident victims and are ready to assist you with your case. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Failure to Word Statutory Settlement Offer Properly Costs Defendants in California Motorcycle Accident Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, May 16, 2016

California Accident Victim Entitled to Recover Full Amount of Past Medical Expenses, Despite Medical Providers’ Sale of Lien at a Discount, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Nov. 16, 2015

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