Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for an employee's torts committed within the scope of the employment. Cal. Civ. Code § 2338. Because it is unjust to exonerate a business from responsibility for injuries occurring in the course of its characteristic activities, an employee's scope of employment is determined by ascertaining whether the risk involved was typical or broadly incidental to the enterprise undertaken by the employer. Where the employee's conduct has substantially deviated from his or her duties, it is unjust to hold the employer liable. Thus, it is necessary to determine the main purpose of injury-producing activity: if it was the pursuit of the employee's personal ends, the employer is not liable.
Dennis Lee Rice was returning to his home after dropping his children at school when his vehicle struck Virginia Le Elder as she attempted to cross the street on her bicycle. At the time of the accident, Rice's job as a regional service manager required him to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. His vehicle was registered in the corporation's Runsheimer Plan, under which employees were reimbursed for various vehicle maintenance costs and paid 6 cents per company-business mile. Employees such as Rice were required to log at least 5,000 business miles annually and name McDonnell Douglas as an additional insured on their personal automobile liability policy. Rice scheduled his own working hours and locations. He had an office in Santa Ana, with designated hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. He normally left his house for the office between 6:30 and 7 a.m. On the morning of the accident, he would have arrived at the office late because he intended to make a business call from his home after dropping off his children. Virginia Le Elder, through her guardian ad litem, Lawrence S. Eisenberg, and Le Hang Le appeal a judgment in favor of McDonnell Douglas Corporation. Le Elder attempted to hold McDonnell Douglas liable under a respondeat superior theory for the alleged negligence of Rice. The complaint alleged Rice was acting within the scope of his employment when his vehicle struck Le Elder, causing her severe and permanent physical and neurological injuries. The employment issue was separately tried to the court prior to trial of the other issues. The Court concluded McDonnell Douglas was not liable.
Can McDonnell Douglas, as Rice’s employer, be held liable under a respondeat superior theory?
The Court held that Rice’s trip to his children's school was a substantial personal deviation from his employment duties such that it would be unfair to hold the employer vicariously liable under respondeat superior, as the trip's purpose was a purely personal activity. The Court refused to create a 24-hour employer liability rule for appellants because it would not prevent recurrence as an employer has no right to control the purely personal conduct of an employee and the increased victim compensation would come at the expense of fairness.