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You are Involved in a Auto Accident-Is Your Employer Responsible to the Other Driver?

Does an employee’s travel to a work meeting with his boss “after hours” entail conduct that results in the employer being liable for injury to another during the travel process?

In Hoy v. Great Lakes Retail Services, Inc., 2016 IL App (1st) 150877 (March 17, 2016) Cook Co., 4th Div., Kurt Woltmann was a carpenter (employee) of Great Lake Retail Services, Inc. (Great Lakes) who rear-ended a car driven by Thomas Hoy.  At or about the time of the collision,  Woltmann had just finished his workday at a job site and was returning to Great Lakes headquarters for a discussion on a personal matter (not a job-related conversation) with the owner of Great Lakes.  The meeting was not previously scheduled according to the owner of Great Lakes, Richard Godfrey.

The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court that Woltmann was not acting within the scope of his employment.  It reasoned that Woltmann left the job site, and was no longer “on the clock” while driving his personal pick-up truck in which he had his own personal tools.  The tools he used in performing his work at the job site that he had just left were owned by Great Lakes and left at the job site.  In the end, the Appellate court reasoned that the focus of the analysis is placed upon the purpose of the “travel itself” and decided to follow the general rule that employers are not responsible for wrongful or negligent acts of employees while traveling to and from work.

Illinois law provides that an employer can be responsible for the torts of an employee when the tort is committed by the employee within the scope of his or her employment.  Courts then raise three (3) questions:

  1. Is the conduct of a kind that the employee is employed to perform;
  2. Did it occur substantially within the time and space limits of the employment; and
  3. Was the conduct actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the employer

The answer provided by the court in Hoy was a resounding “no” as the court applied its analysis in a pretrial process called summary judgment.  Where you are involved in similar circumstances, whether as an employee, an owner or manager, or an injured party, know your rights and responsibilities.  Hire effective counsel and protect your separate interests.

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