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Employee Involved in Vehicle Crash–Are You Liable?

Source: Safety Daily Advisor

The issue of employer liability for motor vehicle crashes, especially in distraction-related accidents, is heating up as more of these cases make it through the legal system.

We talked about distracted driving policies. Having a policy can do more than put employees on notice that you’re serious about phone use. It can even potentially protect you in a lawsuit.

The National Safety Council (NSC) emphasizes, however, that policies that only comply with relevant national or state rules can leave employers vulnerable to liability and costs.

In a white paper titled Employer Liability and the Case for Comprehensive Cell Phone Policies, NSC discusses the legal theory that an employer may be held accountable for negligent employee actions if the employee was acting within the scope of employment at the time of the crash.

The term “acting within the scope of employment” has been defined broadly in a number of cases. Consider the following examples:

·         A jury found that a driver and the corporation that owned the vehicle were liable for $21.6 million because testimony revealed that the driver might have been talking with her husband on a cell phone at the time of the fatal crash.

·         An off-duty police officer was texting moments before a deadly crash. Because he was driving a police cruiser, his employer was held liable for $4 million.

·         An employee was involved in a fatal crash as he drove to a non-business-related event on a Saturday night to make cold calls. The company did not own the car or the phone, but the plaintiff claimed that the business was liable because it encouraged employees to use their “car phones” and lacked a policy governing safe cell phone use. The employer settled the suit for $500,000.

The NSC white paper stresses that to help protect against employer liability a cell phone policy has to be more than words on paper. Employers should be careful not to promote a workplace culture in which employees feel they need to use cell phones while driving.

It’s important to point out that employers can never be completely protected in the event of a lawsuit. But Dallas-based attorney Todd Clement argues that they stand a better chance if they can show that they implemented a total-ban policy, enforced the policy, educated employees, and monitored compliance.

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