Kim Rushton was employed as a chemist for the City of Los Angeles at the Hyperion Treatment Plant for over twenty years. In 2015 he struck and killed pedestrian Ralph Bingener while commuting to work in his own car and on his usual morning route and was not performing work for the City while driving to work.
As a chemist at the Hyperion Treatment Plant, he was at the time a self-described “lab rat” and his job did not require him to be in the field or use his personal automobile for his employment.
Bingener’s surviving brothers filed a complaint alleging that the City was vicariously liable for Rushton’s negligence in the collision. The City moved for summary judgment based on the going and coming rule, asserting that Rushton was not in the course of employment at the time of the accident.
The trial court agreed that the going and coming rule applied to Rushton, who was engaged in his regular commute at the time of the accident and entered judgment against the Bingeners who then appealed. The Court of Appeal sustained the trial court in the published case of Bingener v City of Los Angeles.
Plaintiffs argued an exception to the going and coming rule – the “work – spawned risk” exception. This exception applies when an employee endangers other with a risk arising from or related to work. For example, where an employee gets into a car accident on the way home after drinking alcohol at work with his supervisor’s permission, courts have carved out an exception to the going and coming rule.
Plaintiffs argued that the City knew about Rushton’s health conditions and how it might impair his ability to drive because certain medical expenses were being paid for Rushton’s back injury through the City’s worker compensation program. According to plaintiffs, Rushton’s then-present injuries and medications rendered him unfit to drive. Despite this knowledge, the City allowed Rushton to return to work prematurely without placing any restrictions on his driving. Given that Rushton was impaired and unfit to drive, his driving to work was a foreseeable risk of the City’s activities. The City, should, therefore, be held liable for “a negligently created work-spawned risk endangering the public.”
The Court of Appeal rejected this argument. Nothing about the enterprise for which the City employed Rushton made his hitting a pedestrian while commuting a foreseeable risk of this enterprise. The “going and coming rule” was created for precisely the situation presented here and its application in this case precludes plaintiffs’ claim of vicarious liability against the City.
“Plaintiffs contend that nevertheless, the City was obligated to review Rushton’s worker’s compensation file and reach a decision that Rushton could not return to work because he could not safely drive a vehicle. That argument ignores the undisputed fact that it was a physician, and not the City, who approved Rushton to return to work and did so without limitation on his driving.”