Hinman v. Westinghouse

471 P.2d 988 (1970)

Quick Summary

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Eugene C. Hinman (plaintiff), while on duty as a police officer, was injured by Frank Allen Herman (defendant), an employee of Westinghouse Electric Company. The issue was whether Westinghouse could be held liable for Herman’s actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior, as he was compensated for travel time and expenses related to his commute.

The Supreme Court of California found that because Herman’s commute was part of his workday per their employment contract, Westinghouse was vicariously liable for his actions during that time. The court emphasized that employers should bear the costs associated with risks inherent in their business decisions.

Facts of the Case

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Eugene C. Hinman (plaintiff), a Los Angeles police officer, was inspecting a potential road hazard on a freeway when he was struck by a vehicle operated by Frank Allen Herman, an employee of Westinghouse Electric Company (defendant). As a consequence of the collision, Hinman sustained permanent injuries, and the City of Los Angeles, who paid for his medical and disability expenses, intervened in the case.

Herman was driving home from a job site when the incident occurred. At the time, Herman was compensated by Westinghouse for his travel time and expenses under the terms of a union contract.

His work assignments were directed from the Westinghouse office, and he would travel directly to and from the job site without visiting the office. The employer had no say in Herman’s choice of transportation method or route.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. The plaintiff brought a negligence claim against Westinghouse, asserting vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
  2. The trial court declined to decide as a matter of law whether Herman was within the scope of his employment during the accident, instead leaving this determination to the jury.
  3. The jury concluded that Herman was not acting within the scope of his employment and found in favor of Westinghouse.
  4. The plaintiff and the City of Los Angeles appealed the case to the Supreme Court of California.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether Westinghouse Electric Company can be held vicariously liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the negligence of its employee, Herman, who was involved in a car accident while commuting from work.

Rule of Law

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The losses caused by employees’ torts, which are likely to occur in the employer’s enterprise, should be placed upon that enterprise itself as a cost of doing business. The employer is better suited to absorb and distribute these costs through insurance and pricing to society at large.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The court analyzed vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior, which traditionally has been justified by various theories such as employer control or fault. However, modern justification for vicarious liability is based on policy considerations—specifically, allocating risks inherent in or created by an enterprise.

California cases have recognized that an employer’s responsibility for an employee’s torts extends to ‘risks of the enterprise.’ In this case, since Herman’s travel time was part of his working day per their contract, he should be considered within the scope of employment during this time.

The court also addressed the ‘going and coming’ rule, which typically excludes commuting from the scope of employment.

However, exceptions to this rule exist when commuting provides an incidental benefit to the employer. Since Herman received compensation for travel time and expenses, this benefit to Westinghouse enlarged its labor market, thereby increasing transportation-related risks as a result of its enterprise decisions.

Therefore, these risks should be borne by Westinghouse.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court of California reversed the judgment in favor of Westinghouse and affirmed the order denying motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, concluding that as a matter of law, Herman was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

Key Takeaways

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  1. The modern basis for vicarious liability is policy-driven, focusing on risk allocation rather than employer control or fault.
  2. Exceptions to the ‘going and coming’ rule apply when commuting provides an incidental benefit to the employer, potentially enlarging its labor market.
  3. When travel time is contractually part of an employee’s workday, employers may be held vicariously liable for incidents occurring during that time.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What factors determine if an employee's action falls within the scope of employment for vicarious liability?

In vicarious liability cases, courts weigh whether an employee’s actions were taken in furtherance of duties performed for the employer and were reasonably related to those duties. The employee’s actions should align with the work they are hired to do, and the time, place, and circumstances under which the acts occur are also considered.

  • For example: An IT support technician running company errands in a company car is likely acting within the scope of employment if an accident occurs during this task.

How does the 'going and coming' rule apply in determining an employer's liability for employee commutes?

The ‘going and coming’ rule generally exempts employers from liability for incidents that happen during an employee’s commute. However, when the employee’s travel is integral to their work responsibilities or provides a benefit to the employer, such as when travel time is compensated, exceptions may apply.

  • For example: A sales representative who travels to different regions as a key part of their job might bring the employer under this exception if an incident occurs while traveling between sales appointments.

Under what circumstances can commute time be considered part of an employee's workday for legal purposes?

Commute time can be considered part of an employee’s workday if it is contractually stipulated as compensated time or if the nature of the transportation inherently involves carrying out job responsibilities, such as transporting tools or equipment required for work.

  • For example: A construction worker who transports company-supplied machinery to various job sites might have their travel time regarded as part of their workday because it is critical to their primary work function.


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