Cell phone liability extends to employers Email
Colorado Green NOW
Wednesday, February 25, 2015 11:00 PM


Employers can be liable for distracted drivingEmployers: You could be liable for employees talking on their cells while driving during work hours – and even while driving to and from work. That sobering thought may prompt owners and managers to set specific policies and to train all employees about when use is restricted for their mobile devices.

Consider that 80% of the nation’s 94 million cell phone users talk on their phones at least sometimes while they are driving. And the issue is not hands-free versus hand-held devices. Studies have indicated that it is not holding the phone in a hand that should otherwise be on the steering wheel, but it’s the conversation itself, that impairs driving.

In an industry that relies both on extensive travel in vehicles and intensive communication, cell phones have become an expedient necessity. In addition, they offer busy people the chance to do two things at once. You can talk to clients, check in with a crew and avoid losing a critical call if you talk while driving.

But is the increased efficiency worth the risk?

During the last 15 years, drivers--and their employers--are being sued increasingly for accidents that occur while employees are talking on cell phones. Cases have involved, for example, an attorney talking with clients after a trial, a school teacher who was talking on a cell while driving to work and a salesman who was talking while out on the road. All of their employers--a law firm, the State of Hawaii and a lumber industry company--were found liable and millions of dollars had to be paid to plaintiffs.

And that is only the cost in dollars. People were killed or seriously injured in these cases and the drivers who were responsible will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the devastation they have caused others. At the end of the day, is the loss of public safety worth the risk either to the drivers or their employers?

In cases involving employers, two arguments prevail. Employers have been called out as responsible for the harm caused by employees when the employee was acting within the course and scope of employment at the time the accident occurred. In addition, plaintiffs have argued that the employer was also negligent for failing to provide adequate training or instruction on safe cell phone use, or failing to restrict usage.

Clearly, the time is at hand for employers to be aware of these risks and establish policies that will help ensure employee and public safety as well as minimize the risks of liability for the employer.

This article appears courtesy of PLANET News (January/February 2015 issue).

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green NOW:
7 Steps to Strategic Success in 2015
Two companies share what they learned from DOL audits
How green is your vision?
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