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Marsh USA reinstated as defendant in auto accident case

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A Marsh USA Inc. employee who was required to use her own car for business was acting within the scope of her employment when she was commuting to and from work, said a California appeals court in reinstating the broker as a defendant in the case that arose when the saleswoman was involved in an accident.

Over the previous five years of her employment in Marsh's Los Angeles office, salesperson Judy Bamberger and other salespersons were required to use their personal vehicles for business travel, and were reimbursed by Marsh for their mileage, according to Tuesday's ruling by the state appellate court in Los Angeles in Majid Moradi v. Marsh USA.

On April 15, 2010, Ms. Bamberger, who had used her 2009 Nissan Maxima to transport herself and some colleagues to a company-sponsored program, planned to stop on the way home for some frozen yogurt and then attend a yoga class, said the ruling. In making a left turn at the yogurt shop, she hit Majid Moradi, who was traveling on his motorcycle. He subsequently sued both Ms. Bamberger and Marsh.

A Los Angeles court granted Marsh's motion dismissing it as a defendant in the case in January 2012, on the grounds that Ms. Bamberger was not acting within the scope of her employment when she made the turn.

But the appellate court disagreed.

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“Because the employer required the employee to use her personal vehicle to travel to and from the office and make other work-related trips during the day, the employee was acting within the scope of her employment when she was commuting to and from work,” said a unanimous three-judge panel.

“The planned stops for frozen yogurt and yoga class on the way home did not change the incidental benefit to the employer of having the employee use her personal vehicle to travel to and from the office another and other destinations,” said the ruling.

“Nor did the planned stops constitute an unforeseeable, substantial departure from the employee's commute. Rather, they were a foreseeable, minor deviation. Finally, the planned stops were not so unusual or startling that it would be unfair to include the resulting loss among the costs of the employer's business,” said the state appellate court in reversing the lower court ruling.

A Marsh spokeswoman said in a statement it is company policy not to comment on pending litigation.