The Morrison Law Journal
Significant litigation has occurred over the years in California in regard to personal injury automobile accidents involving company owned vehicles. In some cases, the company owned vehicle is being operated by an employee, but after hours and for purposes that often have little or nothing to do with the employee's work for the employer. The key question in these cases is whether the scope of the employee's employment could permit a finding that the accident occurred while the vehicle was being operated for company/business purposes even though the accident occurred in off hours and the vehicle was being operated at the time of the accident for what appeared to be a personal matter.1
In a serious personal injury case, Ray David Moreno v. Visser Ranch, Inc. (2018) Westlaw 6696021 ("Moreno case"), the California Court of Appeal ruled that, even though a company vehicle was being operated at the time of the accident for personal business, a triable issue of material fact still existed as to whether the driver of the company vehicle was engaged in "purely personal business" at the time of the accident. In the Moreno case, plaintiff Ray David Marino ("plaintiff") was seriously injured on September 12, 2012 when the 2004 GMC Sierra pickup truck in which he was a passenger (and operated by his father), left the roadway, hit an embankment, and rolled over. The driver of the truck, Ernesto Marino Lopez (the plaintiff's father), was returning home late in the evening after attending a family gathering (and the family gathering did not involve his employment nor was his employer even aware of the family event).
Mr. Lopez was an employee of Visser Ranch, Inc. ("Visser Ranch"), owned by John Visser. Mr. Lopez had been hired in September 2004 as a supervisor/manager and was required to work at virtually all of Visser's properties, which included multiple farms, ranches, and a dairy known as Graceland Dairy (where Mr. Lopez lived with his family, including his son). Mr. Lopez' operations involved equipment that ran around the clock. When maintenance or repair issues arose, Mr. Lopez would need to address them immediately in order to prevent the farm and dairy operations from being disrupted. To facilitate Mr. Lopez' ability to respond to repair and maintenance problems arising
1 The legal test is whether the activity at the time of the accident was "incidental" to the employee's duties. See, Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v. Department of Transportation (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 87, 93–94.
outside his usual daytime schedule, Visser Ranch provided him a cell phone and a GMC pickup truck (the pick up truck being owned by a Visser Ranch related entity). Mr. Lopez kept a toolbox and spare parts in the GMC truck so he would have them available in order to respond to a maintenance or repair issue. When Mr. Lopez was not working his regular shift, he used the GMC truck for personal reasons but was then also available to respond to work-related calls.
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