Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. provided Troy Martinez with a company vehicle to use in the execution of his duties. After completing a day’s work, Martinez drove to Bakersfield with his family to purchase a car for his wife. The trip to Bakersfield on this occasion exceeded his normal commute by approximately 140 miles (notably, Martinez had travelled to Bakersfield for work in the past). After leaving the dealership, Martinez struck a vehicle, injuring the six plaintiffs. The six injured plaintiffs subsequently sued Halliburton, Martinez, and others.
The trial court granted Halliburton’s motion for summary judgment finding that it could not be vicariously liable for the plaintiffs’ injuries. Plaintiffs appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. The Court found that even though Martinez was driving a company owned vehicle and travelled to a place where he had occasionally performed work, this trip was “entirely personal” and was not undertaken for the benefit of Halliburton. Further, the Court recognized that Martinez was not performing services or running errands for Halliburton during the trip, nor was his supervisor aware of his trip to Bakersfield until after the accident. Accordingly, Halliburton could not be said to have assumed the risk of a traffic accident during this trip nor was such a risk inherent in, typical of, or broadly incidental to, Halliburton’s enterprise.
The Court contrasted the facts in Halliburton with those in the recent Moradi decision which we reported here. The Court found that unlike Martinez, the employee in Moradi made only a “minimal deviation” from her commute by stopping at a yogurt shop and yoga class on her way home from work. By contrast, the court in Halliburton found that where an employee deviates substantially from his normal commute and the employer derives no incidental benefit therefrom, the employer cannot be vicariously liable for the employee’s purported negligence.
Employers can rely on Halliburton which supports the “coming and going” exception to the doctrine of vicarious liability. However, employers should remain aware that by allowing their employees to use company vehicles to commute to work, they could be liable for accidents that occur when their employees are running personal errands that only minimally deviate from their normal commutes.