Employer Liability For Distracted Driving

In 1984, Motorola developed the first cellular phone. It became known colloquially as “the brick” because the clunky device weighed 2 pounds.

It also came with a heavy price tag — just under $4,000. That didn’t slow sales, however, as businessmen soon recognized the advantages of being constantly in touch. An article from Mashable.com quotes Motorola designer Rudy Kroloff: “We couldn’t build them fast enough. Businesses started taking them on and it became something else, a part of business — not a convenience, but a necessity.”

And thus began the dangers of distracted driving while on the job.

Work-Related Crashes

Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of work-related deaths, according to the National Safety Council, and account for 24% of all fatal occupational injuries. Of course, not all wrecks are caused by distracted driving, but since distractions cause an estimated one fourth of all highway accidents, it’s clear to see that they are a major contributor to work-related crashes.

Another way to “see” this connection is simply to look out your window. That plumbing truck, the cable TV repair vehicle, the appliance delivery van, the real estate SUV, the dog grooming van, the luxury executive car… they’re all likely to be driven by someone who relies on mobile devices to get where they’re going and stay in touch with the office while they’re between stops.

Liability:Employee or Employer?

When an employee causes a wreck while acting within the scope of his or her employment, the employer may be held legally accountable. Even if a company has adopted a policy against cell phone use while driving, if the policy is not enforced and the employer expects the employee to be constantly available, a jury is likely to impute responsibility to the employer as well as the individual employee. Liability is not limited to actions during working hours; in some cases, using a cell phone for business purposes while commuting to and from the job has been viewed as being within the scope of employment.

Generally, the key is not whether the cell phone is the property of the employer — it is whether the employer benefits from the making of the call. But even that is not a bright-line rule.

  • An Ohio jury awarded $21.6 million to the family of a motorist killed when rear-ended by a woman talking on the phone while driving her company car; according to testimony, she may have been having a conversation with her husband at the time. The driver and her employer were found liable.
  • An electrical contractor was using the GPS on a cell phone while driving a company van in Illinois. He ran a red light and caused serious injuries in a T-bone crash. The employee and employer settled the case for $4.1 million.
  • A stockbroker was driving his own vehicle and using his personal cell phone to make business calls as he drove to a non-business-related event. He caused a fatal crash for which the employer made a half-million-dollar settlement because a lawsuit claimed the company encouraged such use and did not have a policy governing safe cell phone use.

Distracted Driving Litigation

Fortunately, personal injury lawyers can obtain cell phone records during the discovery process which can prove that a driver was using the phone while on the job. Such records can also show a pattern of conduct that may reflect employer expectations. When a distracted employee causes a crash, the victim’s lawyer will investigate not only whether a company policy existed, but also whether employees were trained and monitored appropriately.

If you or your loved one has been injured in an Indiana car crash caused by a distracted driver, call McNeely Stephenson for thorough investigation and a diligent effort to obtain compensation from every party who shares in the responsibility for the accident. Unlike the constant connection offered by cell phones, safety on the road is not a convenience, it’s a necessity.