Company carpool has been increasingly popular in the recent years, and companies have been taking advantage of this opportunity to improve recruitment rates and employee retention by promoting and incentivizing carpool. Carpool programs in the corporate setting help employees reduce fuel costs and lessen the wear-and-tear of their personal vehicles, while they get the opportunity to connect with co-workers and gain new acquaintances. It can even reduce employee stress and improve productivity at work. Companies have adopted different ways of encouraging employees to participate in carpool programs. There are companies that offer rideshare drivers discounts on parking fees, while some make a ridesharing game wherein those who log the most number of carpool miles get prizes.
However, this opportunity can make a business vulnerable to liability. A case from the Texas Supreme Court, Painter v Amerimex Drilling I, Ltd., has recently shown this. Crews of Amerimex Drilling were provided bunkhouses 30 miles from the drilling site where they work. The company paid an employee $50 a day to drive three other men from the bunkhouses to the site and back every day. In one of those trips, they met an accident that killed two of the crewmen and injured the driver and another one. The parties sued the company, but the trial court ruled that the company was not liable for the accident and dismissed the case. However, the Texas Supreme Court reversed the decision in April this year.
The Doctrine of Respondeat Superior and the “Coming and Going” Rule
Respondeat Superior means “let the master answer” in Latin. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the company was liable for the accident under this doctrine, which holds an employer responsible for the employee’s negligent actions so long as the employee was acting under the employer’s right of control and within the scope and course of his duties.
The “Coming and Going” rule, on the other hand, is an exception to the Doctrine of Respondeat Superior. It means that the company is not liable for what happens to its employees while they are coming to work or going home, as they are not yet on the clock on their way to work, and are off the clock after work. However, one exception to the “Coming and Going” rule when an employee runs an errand for the employer while in the process of coming and going.
In the case of Amerimex Drilling, while they did not require the crew to use the transportation offered, they gave one driver $50 a day for driving his own vehicle and letting other employees ride with him; and this is what made them liable for the accident.
Impact on Company Carpools
This case could cause concern for companies when they consider compensating or giving incentives to employees for ridesharing. A company can opt to draft contracts that would exempt itself from liability in case of accidents, injuries, and death; but it could be a hard gamble in the end, especially when cases reach the appellate courts. It would probably be safe for the company to avoid offering incentives or reimbursements for ridesharing. While company carpool is a good idea due to its economic and environmental benefits, employers might be compelled to take a step back in encouraging and promoting it for fear of liability.
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