Pierson v. Helmerich & Payne – Employer Liability for Traffic Accidents During Commute

The traffic accident injury claim in Pierson v. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. asked whether an employer of a negligent driver can be held liable when that driver is commuting to and from work. driving

It was an interesting case before a California appellate court because it asked not necessarily whether workers’ compensation might be applicable in a coming-and-going case, but whether the legal doctrine of respondeat superior meant an employer could be held liable for the negligence of an employee coming and going. Respondeat superior is Latin for “let the master answer,” and it’s a legal doctrine used to impute vicarious liability onto the employer for the wrongful actions of an employee acting in the course and scope of employment. However, workers’ compensation law in most states is pretty consistent with regard to the holding that a worker’s commute (with some exceptions) is not considered to be within the course and scope of employment. Whether this also applied in a third-party injury case was the question.

According to court records, this was a question of employer liability under respondeat superior for a car accident caused by an oil rig worker who was driving home after work while also providing two other workers a ride to their hotel, paid for by the employer.

During the relevant time frame, the defendant drilling company operated rigs 24 hours each day, with employees working 12-hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. over two-week stretches. This type of scheduling made it easier for crew members who lived far away to stay near the drilling site to work for a stretch before heading home. Workers who lived more than two hours away were provided with lodging by the company at a local inn. Employees made the hotel arrangements and requested certain roommates, and the company paid the bill directly. Employee spouses were not allowed to stay in employer-funded rooms. Those out-of-town workers arranged their own transportation.

Of the workers involved in this case, the driver lived nearby and would provide rides to two of the out-of-towners in his personal pickup truck by picking them up at the hotel in the morning and dropping them off in the evening. He’d done this some 50 times before, not just for these two but for other workers as well.

One day in December 2011, at the end of the shift, the driver was returning home and giving two of his co-workers a ride to the hotel. At around 6:30 p.m., his pickup truck collided with another pickup truck when he reportedly crossed the double yellow line into oncoming traffic. The driver sustained minor injuries, but his co-workers had to be hospitalized.

It was later noted that the two injured plaintiffs were not paid for their travel time, and the company had not advised them to ride with other employees. The company also did not derive a benefit from having workers carpool.

The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver and alleged he was acting in the course and scope of employment. The employer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the driver was operating his own vehicle at the time and was not acting in the course and scope of employment. The trial court agreed, and the plaintiffs appealed.

The California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District, affirmed, finding the worker was not acting in the course and scope of employment (and therefore the employer wasn’t liable) because:

  • Employees were responsible for arranging their own transportation to and from the job site;
  • The employer didn’t require employees to carpool or ride share; and
  • The employer did not derive an incidental benefit from employee ride sharing arrangements.

The court concluded the undisputed facts established that the coming-and-going rule was applicable in this car accident case, and therefore the employer was not liable.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Pierson v. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.Oct. 25, 2016,California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District

More Blog Entries:

South Carolina Man Accused in Fatal Hit-and-Run Bicycle Accident Again Charged with DUI, Oct. 24, 2016, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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