Bussard v. Minimed, Inc.

105 Cal. App. 4th 798, 129 Cal. Rptr. 2d 675 (2003)



Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is ordinarily liable for the injuries its employees cause others in the course of their work. Respondeat superior imposes liability whether or not the employer was itself negligent, and whether or not the employer had control of the employee. The doctrine's animating principle is that a business should absorb the costs its undertakings impose on others. Under the theory of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for an employee's torts committed within the scope of employment. This theory is justified as a deliberate allocation of a risk. The losses caused by the torts of employees, which as a practical matter are sure to occur in the conduct of the employer's enterprise, are placed upon that enterprise itself, as a required cost of doing business. The employer is liable not because the employer has control over the employee or is in some way at fault, but because the employer's enterprise creates inevitable risks as a part of doing business. It must be deemed settled in California that in accordance with the principal justification for the doctrine, the employer's liability extends to the risks inherent in or created by the enterprise. 


Respondent employer hired a pest control company to spray pesticide overnight. Respondent's employee became ill and stated that she wanted to go home. She drove home and while in route, rear-ended the driver, who was stopped at a red light. The employee sued the employer alleging a single cause of action for negligence for her personal injuries and property damage. The court granted summary judgment in favor of respondent. The employee appealed and the court reversed the grant of summary judgment and directed the trial court to enter a new and different order denying the employer's motion for summary judgment.


Did the trial court err in finding the going-and-coming rule barred appellant's claim of respondeat superior?




The court held that the going-and-coming exception to the doctrine of respondeat superior did not apply to an employee while she as driving home after becoming sick at work from exposure to pesticide fumes and reversed the grant of summary judgment. Although the employee's decision to drive home gave the employer an opening to raise the going-and-coming rule, the rule did not apply because her decision was a fortuity that must not obscure the driver's central claim that the employee's job had contributed to the accident. The employee suffered pesticide exposure at work to which she attributed illness and impaired driving. That an employee might not be fit to drive after breathing lingering pesticide fumes for several hours is not such a startling or unusual event that we find a car accident on employee's commute home was unforeseeable.

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