Ray David Moreno was the passenger in a company-owned pickup truck his father was driving when the vehicle veered off the road, hit an embankment, and rolled over. Mr. Moreno sustained serious injuries and sued his father’s employer, Visser Ranch, Inc. and the owner of the vehicle, Graceland Dairy, Inc. Mr. Moreno maintained that Visser Ranch was vicariously liable because the driver of the truck was acting in the scope of employment at the time of the accident. Moreno v. Visser Ranch, Inc., et al., 5th Dist. Case No. F07822 (filed December 20, 2018).
The driver addressed maintenance and repair issues that came up at Visser Ranch’s various locations and operations, and carried a toolbox and spare parts in his truck at all times. He also drove Visser Ranch’s employees to their work sites. The driver had a set schedule six days a week, but was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week so that he could respond to maintenance issues around the clock. Even though he was issued a company-owned vehicle, the driver was required to use the pickup truck at all times, including for personal tasks.
The driver and Mr. Moreno were on their way home from a family gathering on the day of the accident. Visser Ranch maintained that it was not liable because the driver was engaged in a purely personal activity at the time of the accident and filed a motion for summary adjudication on the claim of vicarious liability. The trial court granted Visser Ranch’s motion.
On appeal, the Fifth Appellate District reversed. The court could not conclude as a matter of law that the driver was engaged in purely personal endeavor at the time of the accident. While the driver’s primary reason for operating the truck at the time of the accident was personal, there was a secondary business purpose underlying the use of the vehicle. The appellate court considered several factors, including: 1) the driver was operating a company-owned vehicle; 2) the tools the driver needed for performing maintenance work for the employer were in the truck; 3) the driver was required to use the company truck at all times; 4) the driver was on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; and 5) the driver, unlike his co-workers, was not limited to using the truck for business-related purposes only. By driving the truck at all times, Visser Ranch derived a benefit since the driver could always immediately respond to maintenance repair requests.
If you have been in an accident that may have involved a company vehicle, please feel free to call Hunter Pyle Law for a free consultation at (510)-444-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.