Distracted Driving Hurts Everyone, Including Businesses
Companies with strong safety cultures have long taken extreme measures to ensure the occupational safety and well being of their employees. Employers must view cell phone use while driving as not just as a serious threat to employee safety, but as a huge legal and financial risk to the business as well.
Cell phones introduce great risk by distracting drivers behind the wheel. Text messages, email, web surfing, and talking on the phone all serve to distract from the focus at hand: driving.
The legal theory of respondeat superior, or vicarious responsibility, says that an employer may be held legally accountable for negligent employee actions if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of a crash.
Employers can and have been held liable for the actions of their employees. Coca Cola recently paid $24M to a woman who was injured when a company employee hit her car while using a cell phone. Other companies have paid millions in damages for similar cases or settled out of court to avoid a jury trial and the negative publicity.
A few other high profile judgments:
- International Paper – $5M
- Dyke Industries – $20.9M
- State of Hawaii – $2.5M
- Smith Barney – $500,000
- Virginia Law Firm Cooley Godward – $30M
What is not well understood is that companies are liable for damages even if employees are driving their own cars or using their personal cell phones to conduct business operations, outside of business hours.
Cell phone records are readily available to the legal discovery process. Victim’s attorneys look for all underlying causes of negligent acts and seek large jury verdicts including punitive damages. They map the employee’s cell phone usage back to the employer’s cell phone policy, which must be proven to be more than just words on paper. The employer must demonstrate that the policy has been enforced.
Employers have an obligation to protect their employees and others with whom they share the roads. Every business large and small must implement – and enforce – a cell phone usage policy.