December 18, 2013

California employers take another hit

By Deborah J. La Fetra Senior Attorney

The California Supreme Court has declined to review a Court of Appeal decision, Moradi v. Marsh, that vastly expands potential employer liability.  In a case that received a lot of press, an insurance broker finished her work for the day, and headed off for some yogurt and a yoga class before going home.  When she turned into the yogurt shop parking lot, she hit a motorcyclist, who sued both the woman who caused the accident and her deep-pocketed employer.  The Court of Appeal decided that, because the employee used her own vehicle as part of her job – visiting clients, attending seminars, and such – that the employer was liable for any harm she caused before returning home for the day, so long as the employee’s personal errands were not an “unforeseeable, substantial departure” from her usual commute.

PLF filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to review this decision, arguing that holding the employer liable for an employee’s conduct after she leaves work—where the employer has no control over the employee’s actions—would be manifestly unfair, and expand employer liability to situations where there is no causal connection between the employee’s job and the injury he or she causes.  By refusing to review the lower courts decision, employers now have every incentive to demand that employees use company vehicles for work, or require employees to come straight to work and return straight home with no stops whatsoever.  The invasions of privacy likely to occur as employers seek to enforce these rules should give one pause.  But having now given the green light to lawsuits against employers for employees engaged in personal errands, there will undoubtedly be other cases in which the court will be called upon to put on the brakes.

What to read next