Helmerich & Payne International Drilling operates oil drilling rigs located in south Kern County on an Occidental Petroleum leasehold.
One of the drilling rigs operated by H&P was called Oil Rig 261. The night shift crew for Oil Rig 261 included defendant Luis Mooney, a floorhand, and Mark Stewart, a motorman. Ruben Ibarra was the crew’s driller and, therefore, the supervisor of Mooney, Stewart and other members of the crew. Ibarra and Stewart did not live in the area and stayed at the Best Western Hotel.
Mooney lived in Bakersfield and provided Ibarra and Stewart with rides to and from the drill site in his personal vehicle, a Ford F250 pickup. Mooney testified that he had given Ibarra a ride at least 50 times. Ibarra testified that he believed he had ridden with Mooney a few dozen times before the accident. Mooney’s route from his home to the jobsite took him by the hotel. As pointed out by plaintiff, Mooney’s route changed when he gave rides because he would have to turn off of Stockdale Highway and into the parking lot of the hotel to pick up or drop off his passengers. This slight change in route is not relevant in this case. Mooney would have traveled by the accident site on his way to and from work regardless of whether he was providing crew members with a ride to or from the hotel.
On December 12, 2011, after the end of their shift, Mooney was returning home and giving Ibarra and Stewart a ride to the hotel. Mooney also had driven Ibarra and Stewart to work the previous afternoon. At approximately 6:30 a.m., about 13 miles from Oil Rig 261, Mooney’s pickup collided with a Chevrolet 2500 pickup driven by plaintiff Brent Pierson. Mooney crossed the double yellow line and into the lane of oncoming traffic.
Pierson and his wife filed a personal injury action against Mooney, and later added H&P as a defendant. Travelers Property Casualty Company of America, the worker’s compensation insurer for Pierson’s employer, intervened in this lawsuit.
H&P filed a motion for summary judgment against Pierson and Travelers. The motion asserted that the incident occurred when Mooney was driving home from work and did not occur while he was in the course or scope of his employment with H&P. Pierson opposed this motion and filed his own motion for summary adjudication on the scope of employment issue. The trial court granted summary judgment for H&P, concluding as a matter of law that the going and coming rule applied and, therefore, Mooney’s operation of his vehicle at the time of the accident was not within the scope of his employment. Subsequently, a judgment was entered and Pierson filed an appeal. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of H&P in the published case of Pierson v Helmerich & Payne International Drilling.
The doctrine of respondeat superior holds an employer liable for torts of its employees committed within the scope of their employment. Thus, a plaintiff suing an employer under the doctrine must prove that the tort was committed within the scope of employment.
A corollary of the doctrine of respondeat superior is the “going and coming rule,” which states that employees do not act within the scope of employment while going to or coming from the workplace. The rationale for the rule is that the employment relationship is suspended from the time the employee leaves work until he or she returns because an employee ordinarily renders no service to the employer while traveling.
The going and coming rule is used in tort law to determine the scope of employment for purposes of respondeat superior liability and also is used in workers’ compensation law to determine whether an employee injured while traveling to or from work sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of the employment for purposes of Labor Code section 3600.
However the Court of Appeal noted that the coming and going rule applied in tort law to determine the scope of employment is not identical to the rule applied in workers’ compensation law to determine the course of employment. The differences exist because the policy considerations underlying each field of law are different. This view of the going and coming rule is nothing new and has been confirmed by most recent published decisions addressing the going and coming rule.
Secondly, the workers’ compensation cases awarding coverage under an exception to the going and coming rule cannot be categorically excluded as having persuasive force in tort cases involving the same exception and similar facts. The two versions of the rule and its exception are closely related and, as a result of this overlap, courts often cite tort and workers’ compensation cases interchangeably.
Third, workers’ compensation cases awarding coverage do not necessarily provide reliable precedent for tort cases because the version of the rule applied in tort cases is more restrictive.