Samol v. Vanlaningham and Respondeat Superior Liability

Samol v. Vanlaningham:

Submitted by New Jersey Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

            The facts of this case are as follows: One morning in March 2016, defendant Ryan P. Vanlaningham left for work at his part-time job at Party City in Bridgewater. A high school student, Vanlaningham, was operating his mother’s vehicle. The store manager summoned him to work for a training meeting, where he was going to be compensated at the usual hourly rate for the training and scheduled to work his regular shift the same day.

On his way to work, Vanlaningham struck a vehicle owned by Pablo Samol. Plaintiff was a passenger in Samol’s vehicle and suffered injuries. She filed a lawsuit initially naming Vanlaningham and his mother as defendants, and then asserted a third-party complaint against Samol, and ultimately amended her complaint to include Vanlaningham’s employer as a defendant as well. The only issue in dispute in this case was liability; does the doctrine of respondeat superior apply to an employee who had a motor vehicle accident after being summoned to a training meeting?

The trial court granted defendant’s motion and denied plaintiff’s. The judge concluded that the defendant was not vicariously liable through a theory of respondeat superior for Vanlaningham’s conduct pursuant to the “going and coming” rule, and that neither the “special mission” nor the “compelled activity” exceptions to the rule applied because Vanlaningham was on a routine commute to work in a personal vehicle the morning of the accident. The trial court concluded the accident occurred outside of Vanlaningham’s scope of employment because he was not fulfilling a job-related assignment during the commute and had not arrived at work. The judge found the training meeting was a part of the normal and routine tasks of Vanlaningham’s employment and the facts established defendant did not: 1) control the route Vanlaningham took to work; 2) compensate him for the commute; or 3) direct him to take a specific route to work or perform job duties during the commute.

Applying a De Novo standard of review, the appellate court defined respondeat superior liability, the ‘coming and going rule,’ and the ‘compelled activity exception.’ According to the appellate court, under the doctrine of respondeat superior, “an employer can be found liable for the negligence of an employee causing injuries to third parties if, at the time of the occurrence, the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment.” The appellate court stated that “[g]enerally, an employee who is ‘going to’ or ‘coming from’ his or her place of employment is not considered to be acting within the scope of employment” because a commuting employee is “deemed to be acting in their own interests without constraint by the employer regarding the method or means of the commute.” They went on to note that, “[a]n employee’s commute is considered outside the scope of employment because employment is suspended from the time the employee leaves the work place until he or she returns, and that ‘suspension’ occurs because the element of ‘control’ is deemed lacking. Moreover, ‘the employer derives no benefit from the commute.’” The ‘compelled activity exception applies, when “an employer directs or requires an employee to undertake an activity, ‘that compulsion, standing alone, brings an activity that is otherwise unrelated to work within the scope of employment.”

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. They reasoned that there was no credible basis to support the assertion defendant controlled Vanlaningham’s commute or that his commute fell within the scope of his job duties. The facts also did not demonstrate Vanlaningham’s commute was pursuant to a special mission, as he was traveling to his regular place of employment on one of his pre-scheduled workdays.

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the present case pertaining to respondeat superior liability arising out of a car accident going to or coming from work. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for the best and most just outcome to result for them.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation as a result of an accident, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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