IS AN EMPLOYER LIABLE FOR THE NEGLIGENCE OF AN EMPLOYEE DURING THE COMING AND GOING TO EMPLOYER-PROVIDED HOUSING?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Wayman v. Accor North America, Inc., 45 Kan. App. 2d 526, 251 P.3d 640 (2011).
This case addresses the following issue:
Is an employer liable for the negligence of an employee during the coming and going to employer-provided housing?
This case arose from a peculiar set of facts which gave rise to its main question concerning who was responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. Id. at 642-43. A supervisor of a motel, who lived at the motel, got drunk at a local bar and hit an individual while driving back to his residence at the motel. Id. at 643. The court determined that the supervisor was acting outside of the course and scope of his employment, despite being on-route to his employer-provided housing and despite his status as being on call at the time of the accident. Id. at 649. Without the requisite course and scope finding, the hotel could not be held liable for any of the supervisor’s actions. Id.
In this case, the plaintiff, Wayman, was greatly injured in a pedestrian-vehicle collision. Id. at 643. The individual that struck Mr. Wayman was the general manager of a Motel 6. Id. As the GM, he was required to live on-site at the motel in employer-provided housing. Id. Additionally, the GM was considered always on-call for any guest-issues that could arise when the motel was understaffed. Id. On the day in question, the GM left work and went to a local tavern where he became very intoxicated. Id. As he was driving back to his residence (the employer-provided housing), he struck Mr. Wayman when his vehicle mounted the curb. Id. Wayman brought suit against both the GM and Motel 6, raising the issue of employer-liability based upon the GM’s returning to employer-provided housing and his status as on-call at the time of the incident. Id.
Prior to this case, the Kansas Supreme Court had outlined when an employee’s willful or malicious act may create liability for an employer under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Id. at 645. Liability exists where these acts “are committed while the employee is acting in the execution of his or her authority and within the course and of his or employment, or with a view to the further of the employer’s business, and not for a purpose personal to the employee.” Id. Using this as a measuring stick, the court examined both of Wayman’s arguments that liability for the employer should exist. Id.
The court visited cases from other jurisdictions dealing with these issues, and noted that a split in authority existed. Id. at 646-48. However, the court found that both the facts of this particular case and the policy arguments supporting employer liability each favored holding the GM personally responsible only. Id. at 648. First, in this case, the GM had not actually received any notice that his services were needed. Id. Further, he had even gone so far as to neglect his on-call status by becoming too drunk to function in his official capacity. Id. These facts both overcame the argument that the GM’s on-call status triggered the course and scope of his employment. Id.
The court was also not persuaded by arguments that the GM would have been covered by the applicable worker’s compensation law. Id. The court found that an employer’s liability to third parties and liability under worker’s compensation were—by design—quite different. Id. Thus, the fact that the GM was headed to an employer-provided residence has no bearing on the decisions of liability to the plaintiff. Id.
Finally, the court found the policy behind employer liability did not support liability in this matter. Id. at 649. The GM had acted in contradiction to the interest of the motel, not in support or furtherance of that interest. Id. To hold the motel liable would be to say this was a “cost of doing business,” even though it provided no benefit of business to the employer. Id. The court was unwilling to do so, freeing the employer for any liability for the actions of the GM. Id.