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Employer Not Liable For Accident That Occurred On Employee’s Commute From Work To Home
Allied Universal Corporation (Allied) provided security guard services at several University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) medical facilities. Allied hired security guards and assigned them to a particular location. UCSF was responsible for supervising the security guards.
Clanisha Villegas worked for Allied from about February 2015 to May 2016. Thereafter, she had a baby. She then reapplied for a security guard position and requested the overnight shift. During her job interview, Villegas disclosed that she did not have daytime childcare for her infant.
Allied hired Villegas and assigned her to work the overnight shift – from 11 pm to 7 am – five nights a week. Allied did not require Villegas to use her car for work and did not dictate how she traveled to and from work. Using Villegas’s personal vehicle, Villegas’s mother often drove Villegas from their shared home in the East Bay to UCSF and picked up Villegas when her shift ended. Villegas would then drop her mother off at work in the Inner Richmond Neighborhood.
Villegas’s first shift was on July 10, 2017. She frequently requested extra shifts and often worked six shifts per week instead of five. On August 21, Villegas began her fourth straight day of work. When her shift ended the following morning, Villegas’s mother picked Villegas up. Villegas dropped her mother off at work, then began driving home. About an hour after finishing her shift, and as she neared her home, Villegas fell asleep and drove into oncoming traffic, hitting and severely injuring Lucy Feltham, who was riding a motorcycle. Feltham’s husband, Mathieu A. Leonelli – who was also riding a motorcycle – witnessed the accident.
Feltham and Leonelli (Feltham) filed a complaint against Allied, alleging various claims of negligence. Feltham alleged that Allied, as Villegas’s employer, negligently required and allowed Villegas to work excessive hours so as to fatigue her and tire her to the point of falling asleep at the wheel in the course and scope of her employment. Feltham also alleged Allied failed to provide transportation for Villegas and therefore, caused the accident and Lucy Feltham’s injuries.
Allied moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was not liable because employers cannot be liable for torts committed by employees commuting to and from work, called the coming and going rule. Allied also argued that there was no causal connection between Villegas’s work and the accident. Feltham argued that Allied negligently supervised and hired Villegas because it knew she had daytime childcare obligations that would keep her from sleeping. The trial court agreed with Allied, and Feltham appealed.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court and held that the going and coming rule applied in this case. The Court of Appeal explained that Villegas did not use her car for work and she was not acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, which occurred well after Villegas finished her shift and while she was driving home in her personal vehicle.
The Court of Appeal also rejected Felham’s argument that Villegas’s conduct fell within the special risk exception to the coming and going rule. That exception applies when an employee endangers others with a risk arising from or related to work, and plaintiffs must establish a causal nexus between the injury and the employee’s job. Here, Villegas worked a regular eight-hour shift before the accident, and before starting that shift she had 16 hours off. Therefore, Allied had every reason to assume that Villegas had sufficient rest during her time off. Additionally, Villegas’s job as a security guard and working overnight shifts did not create a “special risk” that Villegas would injure someone by falling asleep while driving home. The Court of Appeal further reasoned that there was no evidence that Villegas’s fatigue was caused by Allied and therefore, caused the traffic accident.
The Court of Appeal also rejected Feltham’s argument that Villegas’s conduct fell within the “special errand” exception to the coming and going rule, which applies when an employee commits a negligent act while engaged in a special errand or a business errand for the benefit of the employer while commuting. The Court of Appeal rejected Feltham’s argument that Villegas’s extra shifts constituted a special errand because Villegas had not worked extra shifts before the accident and commuting to work is not a “special errand.”
Ultimately, the Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Allied.
Feltham v. Universal Prot. Serv., LP (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1062.
While employers are generally not liable for wrongful acts that happen on an employee’s commute to work, employers can be liable for injuries an employee causes while driving within the scope of employment.