Key Decisions

November 2012- An Employee Was Not In The Course Of Employment

(filed under: Key Decisions Archive | November 20, 2012)

An Employee Was Not In The Course Of Employment When Returning From A Medical Appointment

Fields v. State of California
(Cal. Ct. of App., 5th Dist.), filed September 20, 2012

KEY FACTS

Linda Gadbois worked as a prison cook for Avenal State Prison.  She was injured on the job and sought treatment through her employer’s workers’ compensation network.  Gadbois later exercised her right to see another doctor because she was dissatisfied with her original treating doctor.  She asked the return-to-work coordinator at the prison for a different physician, and received a list of other doctors from which she chose one.  She attended an appointment and scheduled a follow-up.  Gadbois was scheduled to work the day of the follow-up, but received permission to take time off to go to it.  Gadbois went from her home to her appointment.  After meeting with her doctor, Gadbois telephoned her supervisor and told her that she was on her way to work at the prison.

Gadbois was killed, and Kenneth Fields was injured, in a car accident that occurred while she was on her way to work.

Gadbois was paid for the day of her death pursuant to a prison death benefit policy that provides if an employee dies on a regular work day, whether at work, on the way to work, or on paid vacation or leave, the employee will be compensated without using leave credits.  Gadbois received her full salary for the day of the accident and was not paid from workers’ compensation or annual leave funds.

Gadbois was not driving a State-owned vehicle at the time of the accident.  Nor was she required to drive her own vehicle to work, and none of her duties as a cook required her to drive a vehicle.  She was not conducting State business prior to her trip to her medical appointment or her commute to work on the day of the accident.

Following presentation of Fields’ case, the State moved for nonsuit, claiming Gadbois was not acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident.  The trial court granted the motion.

HOLDING & REASONING

The Court of Appeal affirmed.

Under the respondeat superior theory, an employer is vicariously liable for an employee’s torts committed within the scope of employment.  An employee is generally outside the scope of employment while engaged in the ordinary commute to and from the workplace under the “going-and-coming rule.”  However, an exception is made to the going-and-coming rule when the employee’s trip involves an incidental benefit to the employer.  Payment for travel time and expenses or travel to accomplish a special errand at the request of the employer may indicate such a benefit.

The court rejected Fields’ assertion that the State’s payment to Gadbois of her salary for the day of her death evidences that Gadbois was acting within the scope of employment when the accident occurred.   It refused to equate the payment of death benefits to reimbursement of travel expenses.

ANALYSIS

The nuances of the going-and-coming rule can be complicated and leave room for debate.  While this opinion offers guidance, the factual particulars of each case must be closely scrutinized.