An employer’s liability may increase if injured workers prove the company required the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.
By Steven Testan, Founder and Managing Partner and Darrin Meyer, Managing Attorney
Distracted Driving Defense Adelson, Testan, Brundo & Jiminez
This Opinion piece appears in the Aug. 6 print edition of Transport Topics.
The recent $21 million jury verdict against a leading beverage manufacturer whose employee struck a woman pedestrian while driving a company vehicle sent shock waves through the trucking and fleet industries regarding the potential financial consequences of distracted driving. Even though these issues have been on the trucking industry’s radar screen for years, the award sends a wake-up call for employers to reexamine their own efforts to manage this exposure and make any necessary adjustments.
In addition to the jury verdict, employer liability for injuries in vehicular accidents has expanded significantly: 39 states have enacted statutes that prohibit using handheld electronic devices while driving, and the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued similar regulations.
DOT regulations that apply to commercial drivers text messaging or using handheld cellphones carry employer fines for as much as $11,000 per violation. And the fines, awards of back wages in regulatory actions, or punitive damages awarded in civil suits generally are not insurable.
For employers, the implications of distracted driving exposures loom largest in the following areas:
• Workers’ compensation — Each year, employment-related distracted driving accidents result in more than 200,000 employee injuries. In addition, liability for “serious and willful misconduct” and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulatory violations for injuries to employee passengers riding with an employee accused of distracted driving are uninsurable and require special handling. They could leave employers responsible for paying thousands of dollars in employee back wages and benefits and substantial OSHA fines. An employer’s liability may increase if injured workers prove the company required the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.