California Court of Appeals Affirms “Going and Coming Rule”

Screen Shot 2017-01-04 at 6.57.05 PM.pngThe California Court of Appeals recently affirmed the longstanding “going and coming rule” in announcing that an employer was not responsible for the injuries suffered by employees who were injured in a wreck while carpooling to a jobsite. In Pierson v. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co., the plaintiff Pierson was struck by a vehicle being driven by an employee of Helmerich & Payne (H&P). The employee was also transporting two coworkers from their worksite to a nearby hotel. The hotel was being paid for by H&P, and though a supervisor had requested the employees carpool, H&P made it clear that each individual employee was responsible for securing his or her own transportation to and from the jobsite.

Plaintiff Seeks to Join the At-Fault Driver’s Employer

After filing suit against the at-fault driver personally, the plaintiff Pierson moved to join H&P as a defendant, alleging that the at-fault driver was an employee of the H&P at the time the crash occurred and that H&P received an incidental benefit from having the employees carpool together back to the hotel. (Naming the at-fault party’s employer as a defendant in a personal injury case is a common strategy, as the employer is likely to have the resources a personal injury plaintiff needs in order to fully recover his or her losses.)

Generally speaking, an employer is responsible for the tortious conduct of its employees when the employees are engaged in their work duties or engaged in some activity that provides an incidental benefit to the employer (such as an employer who allows an employee to take a company vehicle home where the employee has a sales call to go to while on the way home). Noting, however, the well-established “going and coming rule” – which holds that an employer is not responsible for an employee’s action when that employee is going to work or coming from work – the court sustained a motion to dismiss Pierson’s claim against H&P.

What This Means for California Personal Injury Victims

This decision means that California courts are likely to remain true to established legal principles concerning employers’ liability for the acts of their employees: that is, unless the employee is engaged in his or her job duties when the personal injury accident occurs, the employer will not be held responsible for the employee’s actions.

It is important to have the facts of your personal injury case carefully evaluated by the California personal injury law firm of Case Barnett Law. Determining whether a person’s employer can also be held responsible for your injuries and losses is a fact-intensive inquiry, and Case Barnett Law has the knowledge and resources to carry this important investigative task efficiently so you have the greatest chance of recovering full and fair compensation. Contact Case Barnett Law at (949) 861-2990, or contact us online, if you or a loved one have been injured by the careless acts of another.

NHTSA Moves to Prevent Distracted Driving

It is no secret that distracted driving is on the rise, along with the numbers of injuries and deaths attributable to distracted driving. According to the  (NHTSA), approximately ten percent of all traffic fatalities are due to distracted driving. While distracted driving occurs any time the driver’s attention and/or eyes are diverted from the act of driving, texting and driving (or using one’s cell phone while driving) is the most common type of distracted driving. To combat this, NHTSA has just promulgated a new voluntary guideline applicable to smartphone and auto manufacturers.

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What the Voluntary Guidelines Attempt to Accomplish

According to the guidelines promulgated by NHTSA, smartphone manufacturers and automakers are to develop technology that is able to “sense” when a smartphone user is driving a vehicle and automatically disable many of the smartphone’s functions, including the ability to send and receive text messages and browse the internet. Although some auto manufacturers have already created technology that allows cellphone users to use a touchscreen inside the car to access many of a phone’s features, the technology contemplated by the guideline does not yet exist.

Voluntary Guidelines Do Not Absolve Drivers of Responsibility

Even when enacted, the voluntary guidelines are voluntary. This means that there are no legal ramifications for automakers or smartphone manufacturers who choose not to develop and/or implement the technology contemplated by the guidelines. This means that drivers who choose to text and drive – and who cause an accident as a result – cannot bring a claim for compensation against the automaker or smartphone manufacturer for failing to follow NHTSA’s recommendation.

The NHTSA guideline is also unlikely to have any mitigating effect on a car accident defendant’s culpability. In other words, suppose a defendant-driver in a car crash case is found to be 75 percent responsible for causing a crash because he or she was texting while driving. The defendant’s percentage of fault is not likely to be reduced by any amount if the defendant attempts to argue that the car manufacturer or smartphone maker failed to comply with NHTSA’s regulation.

What if New Technology Malfunctions and Causes a Car Crash?

If the technology that is the subject of NHTSA’s voluntary guideline is developed, and this technology malfunctions, however, the entity responsible for developing and/or integrating the technology may be held responsible if the malfunction causes a crash (i.e., by causing the phone to startle the driver). In such a case, it would be the defendant-driver’s responsibility to prove the manufacturer acted with negligence and that such negligence contributed to the crash. The judge or jury would then be responsible for determining the role the manufacturer’s negligence played in causing the crash.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a distracted driving accident, contact the Costa Mesa car crash law firm of Case Barnett Law at (949) 861-2990. You or your loved one may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and losses, and our experienced legal team can assist you in obtaining the monetary damages you need to recover from your accident.