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California Court Rejects Holding Lyft Liable for Driver Not Carrying Passengers or Using App

lyft-accident-attorneys-injury-lawyersIn California, people who are injured by workers who are acting within the scope and course of their employment at the time of their accidents may recover damages from the employers under a legal principle called respondeat superior. Under this principle, employers are liable for the negligent actions of their employees. However, an employer is not liable for the actions of its employees when they are not working. In Marez v. Lyft, Inc., Cal.Ct.App. Case No. A156761, the California Court of Appeal reviewed the dismissal of two complaints against Lyft in which the plaintiffs alleged that a Lyft driver’s accident happened while he was working and that Lyft should be liable for their injuries and losses.

Case background

In 2015, Jonathan Guarano started working as a driver for Lyft. While he initially drove his personal vehicle, he started driving a vehicle that he rented from Hertz under a program through Lyft called the express driver program. To rent a vehicle from Hertz to drive for Lyft under this program, a driver must choose a pre-approved vehicle and drive at least 20 hours per week. In exchange for driving a Hertz rental vehicle under this program, Lyft drivers receive several incentives. When he made enough money to cover the cost of the rental vehicle, Lyft paid for the rental by deducting it from his paychecks. When he did not make enough money, he paid for the cost out of his pocket. Guarano used the rental car for both personal and work use.

Guarano drove the rental car to San Francisco for a gaming conference and parked nearby. He then hired a Lyft to go to the conference so that he could work at it for the day. Once the conference ended for the day, he took a Lyft back to his parked vehicle and started driving home. On his way home, he caused an accident with two other motorists, including Sabrina Marez and Marissa Cruz. The police cited Guarano and found that the accident was caused because of traveling at an unsafe speed.

Both Marez and Cruz filed lawsuits against Guarano and Lyft. They argued that Lyft and Guarano were operating a joint venture, meaning that Lyft was jointly responsible for Guarano’s negligent actions and their resulting injuries. Lyft filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that Guarano had not driven the vehicle for Lyft on the day of the accident and that renting a vehicle from Hertz through Lyft’s program did not mean that the company would be vicariously liable 24 hours per day when the driver used the vehicle for his personal travel.

The plaintiffs each filed objections to Lyft’s summary judgment motions. Marez argued that whether Guarano was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident was a question that should be determined by a jury. She argued that Lyft controlled most of the aspects of the rental, meaning that Guarano was acting as the company’s agent. She also argued that Lyft was vicariously liable because an accident is an inherent risk of giving a driver a vehicle to use for work. Marez argued that the coming and going rule was not applicable because the use of the rental vehicle was an incidental benefit for Lyft.

Lyft filed an answer and argued that the court could decide on the issues as a matter of law. The court found for Lyft on the coming and going rule. However, it asked for supplemental briefs about whether Guarano was working in the course and scope of his employment whenever he drove the rental vehicle. The plaintiffs filed briefs, arguing that the vehicle itself was the business venture. The court granted Lyft’s motions for summary judgment, and Marez and Cruz appealed.

Issue: Whether Guarano was acting in the scope and course of his employment with Lyft when he caused the accident with the plaintiffs?

The plaintiffs argued that Guarano was acting in the scope and course of his job as a Lyft driver at the time of the accident. They argued that the court should not have granted Lyft’s motions for summary judgment and that whether Guarano was acting as an agent for Lyft at the time of the accident was a question of fact that should have been left for a jury to decide.

Rule: When an employee negligently causes an accident and injuries when he or she is acting within the scope and course of his or her job, the employer is vicariously liable.

Accidents that are caused by Lyft drivers can involve complex liability issues. In cases in which people are injured in accidents with Lyft drivers who were driving on their own time and were not transporting passengers, Lyft will not be liable.[2] Determining whether a Lyft driver was working within the scope and course of his or her employment will be important for determining whether Lyft can be held liable for accidents caused by Lyft drivers.

In California, employers are considered to be vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employees when their employees are acting within the scope and course of their jobs and cause accidents that injure others. To hold an employer liable, the plaintiffs must prove that the workers were acting within the scope of their jobs at the time of the accidents, however.

Analysis

The court analyzed whether Guarano was acting within the scope and course of his employment when he caused the accident that injured the plaintiffs under the tests summarized in Moreno v. Visser Ranch, 30 Cal.App.5th 568 (2018).[3] In that case, the court outlined two different tests that are used to determine whether a worker is acting in the scope and course of his or her employment. Under the first test, an employer is vicariously liable for an employee’s negligent conduct when the employee’s activities were done with the permission of the employer and caused the worker to become dangerous to others and when the employer receives some benefit from those actions. Under the second test, an employer is vicariously liable when the employee’s action was performed as a requirement of or incident to his or her job or when the employer could have reasonably foreseen the employee’s negligent conduct.

The court also noted that the coming and going rule means that employers are generally not liable for the negligent actions of employees when they are commuting to or from their jobs. However, an exception exists for when an employee is given the use of a company vehicle. Lyft argued that liability does not apply when an employee engages in purely personal activities.

The court found that Lyft did not require its drivers to use rental vehicles. Instead, Lyft drivers could choose to use rental vehicles or their approved personal vehicles and could switch between them. The court also found that Guarano’s driving to and from the gaming conference in the rental vehicle was not incident to his duties as a Lyft driver. The court found that Guarano’s actions amounted to a substantial deviation from his duties as a Lyft driver and that Lyft could not be found liable under respondeat superior as a matter of law.

Conclusion

The California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision and dismissed both cases. The court ordered that Lyft could seek to recover its costs for the appeal.

Schedule a consultation with a Los Angeles personal injury attorney

Being injured in an accident that was caused by a rideshare driver can involve complex issues of liability. An experienced Los Angeles personal injury lawyer at the Steven M. Sweat Personal Injury Lawyers can help you to understand the legal remedies that might be available to you. Call us today at 866.966.5240 to schedule a consultation.

Sources

[1] https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2020/a156761.html?utm_source=summary-newsletters&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2020-05-01-personal-injury-8af23954f0&utm_content=text-case-read-more-10

[2] https://www.victimslawyer.com/los-angeles-lyft-passenger-injury-attorney.html

[3] https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9786285415406687138&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

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