Employee Cell Phones Mean Employer Liability

Employees texting while drivingEmployers are liable for most of their employees’ actions, especially when they put others in harm’s way. Most employers know that having staff members driving company-provided vehicles, or their own vehicles if on company business, must protect themselves with proper liability coverage.

Over the past several years, distracted driving by employees has been named the culprit in several liability cases—and employers have had to pay big settlements. In these cases, the cause of distraction was the ubiquitous—and dangerous—cell phone; these employers where found to be liable for permitting employees to use cell phones while driving for business:

In Florida, a jury awarded $16 million to a woman struck by a salesperson who was talking on the phone while driving. The employer was found liabile.

A Virginia court allowed a claim against a law firm for $30 million when an attorney struck and killed a 15-year-old girl while talking to a client on the phone. The law firm settled for an undisclosed amount.

Another case involved International Paper Company, who paid a defendant over $5 million after she was rear-ended by an employee who was talking on a cell phone.

The IPC case is interesting because the company had a policy in place that only allowed employees to use hands-free phones in their company vehicles. Obviously, the policy didn’t protect the company from the lawsuit!

Several states have either banned or are regulating use of cell phones while driving. Employers everywhere are following suit, especially in light of several tragic mass-transit accidents where operators caused injuries and fatalities because of texting.

Last week, President Obama banned federal employees from using cell phones to call or send text messages while driving federally owned vehicles, using cell phones to conduct federal business while driving private vehicles, or using federally-owned cell phones in any manner whether driving public or private vehicles.

Well, that ought to cover it. Employers might consider using the federal ban as a guideline to protect their own companies, their employees, and the public from needless accidents and lawsuits. The important lesson is to institute a cell phone use policy, communicate it, and enforce it!

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