Usually, it is understood that your commute to work is “off the clock,” meaning that your relationship as an employee to your employer is suspended during this time. Consequently, employers are not liable for any injuries you sustain or cause to others during your commute. However, this becomes a bit more complicated if your employer specifically asks you to have your vehicle at work in order to perform key duties, such as running company errands. Let’s take a closer look at instances in which an employer may be held liable for an auto accident involving an employee.
Understanding “The Employment Environment”
When an employer expressly or implicitly requires you to have your vehicle on-site so that you can perform your required duties, your personal vehicle becomes part of the employment environment. Additionally, if the employer benefitted in some way from you having your car at work on the day you were involved in a car accident, your employer may also be open to liability. Since you need to transport your car to your place of employment, this also makes your commute part of the scope of your employment, which opens up your employer to potential liability for any injuries you suffer or cause during your commute.
Conversely, if you were involved in a car accident during your commute, but your employer neither requires you to have your car at work nor does it benefit from the presence of your car, then your employer has no liability.
A Recent Example
A three-justice panel on the Court of Appeal just reversed an almost $14 million judgment against Los Angeles County. Pedestrian Jake Newland sustained injuries from the actions of county public defender Donald Prigo, who was driving to his Pasadena home from his office at the Norwalk County Courthouse. While Prigo occasionally used his vehicle to visit his clients in jail or to view crime scenes, the county did not require him to have his car with him at work.
In order for Newland to win his case, he had to show that the county required Prigo to drive his car to work or that Prigo’s use of his car benefitted the county. Newland was unable to prove either of these instances and so the Court of Appeal overturned his victory.
What Employers Can Do
Employers can adopt a written policy stating that an employee is not required to drive a personal vehicle to work, and then make a concerted effort to never imply otherwise. However, there is little else an employer can do, since it will still be liable if, on the day of an auto accident involving an employee, the employer received some benefit from the presence of the employee’s vehicle at work. For instance, if Prigo had visited a client in jail on the day of the accident, legal experts say that Newland would have won his case.
Auto accidents can happen anytime throughout the day or at night. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident and you are interested to file a personal injury lawsuit to collect the compensation you deserve, contact Hales & Associates, A Professional Law Corporation in Murrieta today at (951) 489-3320. We offer free consultations and will work diligently to help you win the compensation you are owed.