Thomas Hoy was rear-ended by Kurt Woltmann. Hoy sued Woltmann for negligence. After Woltmann’s deposition, Hoy sued Great Lakes for negligence under respondeat superior theory. Before Great Lakes could depose Woltmann, he died from causes unrelated to the accident.
Respondeat superior is a doctrine that considers whether an employer is liable for the torts of an employee when the employee commits the tort within the scope of employment. To determine if an employee was acting in the scope of their employment, the court looks to see if three elements are met: 1) was the conduct the kind of work the employee is employed to do; 2) did the conduct occur substantially within the approved temporal and geographical limits; and 3) was the purpose of the conduct, at least in part, to serve the employer?
Generally, travel to and from work is outside the scope of employment but there are two exceptions, which arise when an employer requires an employee to travel away from a regular workplace or when the employee’s travel is for their employer’s purposes rather than simply moving an employee to or from a regular job site. For example, when an employer tells an employee to drive to a non-work location to take an evening exam as part of a certification related to work, or when a company policy provides employees with reliable transportation home. Those fall within the purview of the exceptions. The second exception focuses on the travel itself and whether it serves the employer’s purpose other than simply moving the employees. In the second example, the travel was serving the employer’s company policy and therefore was a valid exception to the rule.
When Woltmann testified that he was heading towards headquarters to speak with his boss, the Court allowed the inferences that Woltmann was going to talk about something work related. Hoy argued that the second exception applied to him because a work-related meeting serves the employer’s interests. The Court did not find the argument persuasive, rather, application of Hoy’s argument would swallow the general rule. In other words, every time an employee appears for work they are serving the employer’s interests and if that satisfied the exception then every time an employee travels to or from work they are acting in the scope of employment.
The question turns on the goal of the travel. If that goal is nothing more than to convey an employee to a regular work site, then the conduct is outside the scope of employment and liability is not attached to the employer. Here, Woltmann was conveying himself to a regular work site, headquarters, and therefore, the employer was not liable.