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Volunteer Was Not Acting In The Course And Scope Of His Volunteer Work During Commute
Ralph Steger was a volunteer for Kaiser who provided pet therapy to a Kaiser patient at an assisted living facility. In July 2015, after a therapy session, Steger drove his own car to his credit union to do some personal business. On his way home from the bank, Steger struck and killed Wyatt Savaikie, a pedestrian who was crossing the street. Following the accident, Savaikie’s parents filed a lawsuit against Kaiser alleging that Kaiser was vicariously liable for Steger’s negligence.
Kaiser filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit because Steger was not acting within the scope of his volunteer work at the time of the accident. Kaiser argued that the so-called “coming and going” rule applied. Under that rule, an employer is not liable for an employee’s negligent acts committed during the commute to or from work. Savaikie’s parents argued that an exception to the rule applied. The trial court disagreed, finding that in order to hold Kaiser liable for Steger’s accident, Steger must have stuck Savaikie in the course and scope of his volunteer work for Kaiser. The Savaikie’s appealed.
First, the Court of Appeal considered whether the “required-vehicle” exception to the coming and going rule applied. Under the required-vehicle exception, if an employer requires an employee to furnish a vehicle as an express or implied condition of employment, the employee will be in the scope of his employment while commuting to and from the workplace. A Kaiser employee testified that Kaiser did not require Steger to use his own car and that other methods of transportation, such as Uber or Lyft, were permissible. While there was testimony regarding whether Kaiser offered mileage reimbursement to volunteer pet therapists, the court noted that payment for travel expenses is not evidence of an implied requirement that an employee must use his own vehicle. Finally, the court rejected the Savaikie’s arguments that Kaiser’s requirements that Steger provide annual proof of vehicle insurance and transport the therapy dog inferred that Kaiser required Steger to use his own car. The court concluded that there was no evidence that Kaiser expressly or impliedly required Steger to use his own car.
Next, the court evaluated whether Steger’s use of his personal car provided an incidental benefit to Kaiser. The Savaikies suggested that a variation on the vehicle use exception focuses on whether the employer receives an incidental benefit from the employee’s use of the employee’s own car. The court declined to find that there was a distinct exception for such a situation. Instead, the court proposed that the employer’s incidental benefit is a factor to consider in deciding whether an implied vehicle use requirement exists. But, because there was no requirement that Steger use his own car as a condition of his volunteer work, there was no triable issue as to whether the incidental benefit pertained to the case.
Lastly, the court considered the Savaikie’s argument that a “special mode of transportation” exception to the coming and going rule applied. The court reasoned that even if using a specially equipped vehicle is alone sufficient to create an exception to the coming and going rule, there is no evidence Steger had such a vehicle. Steger simply used a harness and clips to secure his therapy dog in the back of his vehicle; he did not make any modifications to the vehicle itself.
Savaikie v. Kaiser Found. Hosps., 2020 WL 4013134 (Cal. Ct. App. June 23, 2020).
Agencies that require an employee to use a personal car as a condition of employment may be liable for that employee’s car accidents, even if the accidents do not occur at the workplace. LCW attorneys can review an agency’s vehicle use policies to reduce risk while continuing to meet the agency’s needs.