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March 2012 Jurisdiction Law Update

The Pennsylvania Superior Court finds that an employee driving home from work is acting in the course and scope of employment and therefore, the employee subjects the employer to Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction and vicarious liability for the employees’ actions.

In Schiavone v. R.J. Aveta, 2012 Pa. Super. 68, 1352 EDA 2011 (Pa. Super. 2012) the Pennsylvania Superior Court considered whether an employee who was driving directly home from work in a company owned vehicle was acting within the course and scope of his employment for purposes of deciding whether there is jurisdiction over the defendant’s employer for its vicarious liability an auto crash case.

In Schiavone, the Defendant employee was driving a company car on his way home from work when he was involved in a motor vehicle collision with the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff sued both the driver, for his direct negligence, and his employer, under a theory of vicarious liability, e.g. the master is liable for the acts of their servant.  At the time of the crash, the defendant driver was driving from his job in New Jersey to his home in Pennsylvania and the crash occurred in Pennsylvania.

To make a determination on the issue of jurisdiction, the court analyzed Pennsylvania’s jurisdictional statute, or Long Arm statute (42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5322), and juxtaposed this statute against the Worker’s Compensation Act.  The court recognized that the case falls under an exception to the “coming and going” rule found in the Worker’s Compensation realm which clearly states that a worker is not in the scope of employment in worker’s compensation matters when coming or going to work because that does not further the employer’s business pursuits.

Under Pennsylvania law, for an employee to satisfy the “employment contract” exception to the coming and going rule, he must establish that: (1) he was commuting to or from work; (2) the employer controlled the means of transportation; and (3) the company provided for the costs and expenses related to the employee’s commute.

The Court held that in third party litigation, and not worker’s compensation, an employee commuting home from work in a company-owned vehicle of which all travel expenses are paid for by the employer is acting within the scope of his employment such that the employer is responsible for any negligent conduct resulting from the employee’s driving.  The court determined that jurisdiction was authorized under the long arm statute because the defendants caused injury to a resident of Pennsylvania while within the state and that it was not a violation of the defendants’ due process rights, i.e. it was fair, to then make them appear and defend a lawsuit in Pennsylvania because the defendant had sufficient contacts with Pennsylvania that they could reasonably anticipate being called into court there.  This holding led the court to find that jurisdiction did exist over the Defendants and the case could proceed in Pennsylvania against both the driver and his employer.  To read the full decision please click here.