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De La Cruz v. City of Los Angeles

California Court of Appeal for the Second District, Division 4
2002 WL 358825 (2002)


Facts

Juana Mercado and her infant daughter (plaintiffs) were crossing Lankershim Boulevard when they were struck by Bryce Wicks’s car. Wicks was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department and prior to the accident, Wicks attended a retirement party for two other employees of the Department. The party was not at the police station and some employees carpooled to the party from the station. No one is exactly sure when Wicks left the party, but the party was still going at around 7:00 p.m., although most of the guests were gone by then. The accident occurred at 7:50 p.m. Wicks’s most direct route home from the retirement party—which was not a short drive—did not take him on Lankershim Boulevard. It is not clear why he was on Lankershim Boulevard, but the road is in the same neighborhood as the police station. Mercado brought a negligence suit against Wicks as well as the City of Los Angeles as Wicks’s employer (defendants), on the respondeat superior theory that Wicks went on a “special errand” after the party by returning to the police station before he went home. Under this theory, if an employee is returning to his home from a special errand as part of his regular duties—which can include a social function that is a “customary incident” of the employment relationship—he is said to be within the scope of his employment, thus making his employer liable. In addition, a foreseeable deviation from a special errand does not take the employee out of his scope of employment. Wicks died before trial. The trial jury found Wicks negligent and Mercado settled with Wicks’s estate separately. However, the jury split on the issue of whether Wicks was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The trial court thus entered a judgment of nonsuit against Mercado’s claim against the City of Los Angeles. The court of appeal held that the judgment of nonsuit was procedurally defective. Mercado appealed, providing a map and asking the court to take judicial notice of many geographic facts, including notice that Lankershim Boulevard is in the neighborhood of the police station.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Hastings, J.)

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