Distracted driving, known to cause many traffic accidents, is also a workplace issue. Companies can be held liable when their workers cause motor vehicle crashes because of distracted driving.
According to the National Safety Council, automobile crashes are the number one cause of workplace deaths. Motor vehicle accidents cause 1,600 workplace deaths per year — compared to 832 workplace deaths caused by assaults, 738 fatalities resulting from incidents involving objects or equipment and 646 deaths caused by falls.
Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents, with an estimated 25 percent of automobile accidents involving cell phone usage. According to the Safety Council, drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to crash, regardless of whether they use a handheld cell phone or a hands-free device.
When an employee causes traffic accidents that result in injuries, his or her employer may be held liable for the worker’s cell phone use.
In one recent case, a jury found a driver and his employer liable for $21.6 million in a fatal crash where there was evidence that the driver was talking on a cell phone at the time of the accident. In another case, a police department was held liable for $4 million because an off-duty police officer was driving a police cruiser and texting moments before a fatal crash. Another employer settled a lawsuit for $500,000 after its employee caused a fatal crash. Although the salesman was not driving a company car or using a company cell phone, he was making “cold calls” as he drove to a non-business-related event on a Saturday night.
Companies like these can be held liable both for the negligence of their employees and for the company’s own negligence in failing to maintain and enforce a policy for safe cell phone use. State laws vary as to whether they prohibit drivers from using a handheld cell phone. Many states restrict drivers to hands-free devices. Many companies require their employees to use a hands-free device if they use a cell phone while driving, even if local laws do not require it. However, these policies do not necessarily protect companies from liability.
The National Safety Council recommends that employers prohibit workers from using cell phones while driving. An ideal company policy, according to the safety council, would prohibit all employees from using handheld or hands-free cell phones in all company vehicles, and would ban work-related communications while driving, even in personal vehicles or on personal cell phones.