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Workplace Safety: Texting while Driving

In addition to the safety issues related to employees texting while driving, employers could also face potential legal problems.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires employers to provide a workplace free of serious recognized hazards.

According to OSHA (as part of their Distracted Driving Initiative), “Employers who require their employees to text while driving—or who organize work so that doing so is a practical necessity even if not a formal requirement – violate the OSH Act.”

In terms of legal action, employers can be held liable for accidents committed by workers who are texting while driving under “respondeat superior”. This doctrine states that employers can be held liable for an employee’s wrongful conduct if that conduct arose out of the regular course of the employee’s duties (such as driving).

Courtrooms are seeing more and more lawsuits filed against employers when their employees are involved in car crashes while using a cell phone. Many of these cases have ended with significant cash awards against the employers.

In 2008, Jeffrey Knight was reaching for his cell phone to check for text messages when his tractor-trailer loaded with 13 tons of scrap metal crashed into 10 vehicles stopped in traffic. Three people were killed and 14 were injured leading to lawsuits against both Knight and his employer. In Tiburzi v. Holmes Transport, a federal judge awarded more than $18 million to a couple after the husband was permanently disabled as a result of the crash. In another case, Cason v. Holmes Transport, a district court awarded $6 million to the family of a man killed in the crash.

By giving an employee cell phones to use for calling into meetings and staying in touch while traveling and not limiting the use of those devices, an employer puts himself at legal risk. If that employee becomes distracted while on a conference call and hits another car, the employer is likely liable for the accident.

What should employers do?

Employers would be well advised to adopt a distracted driving policy. In doing so, they can improve the safety of their team and the public at large while limiting liability exposure.

This policy should clearly state that it is against company rules to text, e-mail or use a hand-held communication device while operating a company vehicle, driving a personal vehicle for business use, or using a company-issued communication device.

If instituted, be sure the policy is in writing, enforced by company management and communicated to employees who then acknowledge in writing that they have read and will comply with it.

Should you have any questions related to employees texting while driving, please contact us online or call our offices at (561) 653-0008. At Scott • Wagner and Associates., our approachable and knowledgeable lawyers are dedicated to providing skilled legal representation for your unique situation.

 

Sources:

  • United States Department of Labor
  • IEC
  • MedSafe
  • FindLaw
  • Tiburzi v. Holmes Transport 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73720, (E.D. Mo. Aug 20, 2009)
  • Cason v. Holmes Transport, Inc., No. 3:2008cv00617 – Document 31 (S.D. Ill. 2009)
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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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