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Court Holds that Employee’s Stops for Frozen Yogurt and Yoga Class are Within Course of Employment

Under a doctrine known as respondeat superior, an employer is responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their employment. A recent California case, Moradi v. Marsh United States, has expanded the definition of “course of employment” somewhat.

In Moradi, a motorcyclist hit by another motorist sued the driver and her employer, arguing that the other driver was in the “course of employment” when she caused the accident. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County granted summary judgment for the employer on the ground that the employee was not acting within the scope of her employment when she turned to go to a frozen yogurt shop on the way home from work. The motorcyclist appealed.

The court of appeal reversed the superior court decision, holding that the doctrine of respondeat superior applied. Under the required vehicle exception to the “going and coming” rule, the employee was acting within the scope of her employment when she was commuting to and from work because the employer required her to use her personal vehicle to travel to and from the office and make other work-related trips during the day.

Somewhat controversially, the court of appeal determined that the motorist’s stops for frozen yogurt and a yoga class on the way home did not change the incidental benefit to the employer of having the employee use her personal vehicle.

Additionally, the court of appeal considered that, on the day of the accident, the she had used her vehicle to drive herself and other employees to an employer-sponsored program, and the she had planned to use her vehicle the next day to drive to see a prospective client.

The court stated that these planned stops were not an unforeseeable, substantial departure from the employee’s commute – they were minor, and foreseeable, deviations.

Last, the court held that these planned stops were not so unusual or startling that it would be unfair to include the resulting loss among the other costs of the employer’s business.

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