California Appeals Court Holds Bike Injury Lawsuit Must Go to Jury

While riding his bicycle, a victim collided with the door of a driver’s personal vehicle when the driver opened the door. The bicyclist sued the driver and the driver’s employer, alleging negligence and respondeat superior liability. The lower court granted summary judgment in the employer’s favor on the ground that the “going and coming” rule barred employer liability for this California bicycle accident during his commute to work. The bicyclist argued the defendant did not meet its initial burden of production on summary judgment to show the going and coming rule applied. He further argued triable issues of material fact existed as to the rule’s applicability here. The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District held that whether the going and coming rule applied in this case could not be decided as a matter of law; therefore, it reversed the summary judgment.

bicyclist

On October 16, 2014, the driver drove his personally owned Chevrolet Suburban from his home and parked on Brandywine Ave. He stayed in his personal vehicle for a few minutes to gather his phone, wallet, and other items. The victim was riding his bicycle and struck the door of the driver’s personal vehicle as soon as the driver opened it.

He filed suit, alleging he suffered injuries during the accident and pleading a respondeat superior theory. The employer moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it was not liable for the injuries under respondeat superior, and undisputed facts showed the going and coming rule barred the claim. They stated that “Hunt did not have a fixed office location that he commuted to on a regular basis, but instead as a territory manager for A-Z Bus, would regularly drive to his rental vehicle to make sales calls. As such, his company-reimbursed rental vehicle was his ‘fixed place of business’ and his commute to and from the rental car was his normal commute that fell under the going and coming rule.”

The lower court ruled that the going and coming rule applied because the driver was using his personal vehicle when the incident occurred.

On appeal, the victim contended that based on the evidence presented in the motion papers, the employer did not meet its initial burden of production because the exceptions to the going and coming rule set forth in Richards v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. (1941) applied.

The Fourth District Appeals Court concluded that it could not decide the applicability of the going and coming rule as a question of law because more than one reasonable inference could be drawn from the undisputed facts. A first reasonable inference that could be drawn is that under Richards, the driver was a traveling salesman with no fixed place of business. Accordingly, irrespective of whether he was driving his personal vehicle or his rental vehicle within his sales territory in California during a workday, he was benefiting the employer and thus was within the scope of employment. Under this particular inference, the coming and going rule would be inapplicable, and the employer would be liable for the harm to the victim because the driver was within his employment at the time of the accident.

A conflicting inference was that the driver never performed work for the employer until he got into the rental vehicle that the employer paid for and insured. Therefore, the going and coming rule would apply because the accident occurred during the first portion of the driver’s commute, before he transferred to the rental vehicle. At that time, he was not benefiting the employer and thus was not within the scope of employment. Given that these inferences would lead to disparate results, this case was not suitable for adjudication as a matter of law. The court therefore reversed the summary judgment, holding that a jury must consider and weigh all of the relevant circumstances.

The bicycle accident lawyers at Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

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