CBS News reports workplace pressure is adding to the distracted driving epidemic on our nation's roads, as motorists feel compelled or required to answer calls, texts and emails from their employers while their eyes should be on the road.
Closer to home, our personal injury law firm in Palm Beach reported last month that Florida lawmakers are looking to toughen the texting ban for all drivers. While the number of distracted driving accidents continues to increase, Florida remains one of a dwindling number of states where texting and driving is not a primary traffic offense.
But, while federal and state bans remain in place for some drivers, particularly commercial truck drivers and drivers of school and commercial buses, most professions aren't regulated when it comes to using electronic devices behind the wheel.
Employee Distracted Driving Liability in Florida
Under Florida law, employers can be held vicariously liable for actions of employees within the scope of their employment. (Kane Furniture Corp. v. Miranda, 506 So.2d 1061 (Fla. 2d DCA 1987)). Employers may also be liable in cases where negligent hiring or retention of an employee is at issue. Older employees in the study were not immune to the risks. About one-third of employees ages 45 to 64 acknowledged work-related communication sometimes occurred while they were driving.
Workers injured on the job or while acting in the course and scope of employment can usually obtain workers' compensation benefits, regardless of whether they are at fault. Others who are injured in a collision may have grounds to pursue legal action against the at-fault driver's employer for general negligence and vicarious liability.
General negligence could be asserted for failure to institute or enforce a company distracted driving policy or negligent hiring or negligent retention (e.g., the employee had a history of poor driving on-the-clock and the company still hired or continued to allow the worker to drive for work purposes anyway). Vicarious liability could be asserted even if the company did nothing wrong, so long as the employee was negligent in causing the crash while acting in the course and scope of employment.
Instituting Preventative Distracted Driving Policies in the Workplace
One of the best things a company can do is to develop and post a comprehensive distracted driving policy. Not only will it help keep your employees and their loved ones safer, it could help shield your company from liability in the event an employee causes a serious or fatal distracted driving accident.
The National Safety Council reports employers should continue to go beyond the law by establishing and following best practices. The agency also offers a safe driving kit that includes resources aimed at employers who want to establish a distracted driving policy in the workplace. A webinar and cell-free driving pledge are also available.
Research by the NSC shows employers continue to be held liable for employee crashes even when employees use hands-free devices and were not in violation of state law. A total employer cell-phone ban should cover both handheld and hands-free devices, should cover all employees, and should encompass all company vehicles, all company cellular devices and all work-related communications, even from a personal vehicle or cell phone.
Victims who are involved in a collision with a distracted driver who is driving for work should consult a law firm with extensive experience in handling such cases. The legal discovery process should reveal driver cell phone records, texting records and details about an employer's cell phone policy.