Cell Phone Car Accident Liability Lawyers
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When Can an Employer be Liable for Cell Phone Use?
Under the doctrine of vicarious responsibility, employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed in the course of employment. Generally, this means anything they do while at work will legally reflect back on the company. Cell-phones have expanded that area of liability by allowing any employee anywhere to be "in the course of employment" simply by using his cell phone to make a business call.
If an employer provides cellular phones, or if cellular phone use is a necessary part of a job, then that employer can be liable for problems created by their employee's use of cell phones while driving or otherwise working for the employer. Sometimes the employee does not even need to be making a business related call. If the phone itself is company issue, the employer may be held liable for it wherever or however its used.
This is especially concerning to employers when it comes to driving, since a employee's car accident could end up costing tens of millions of dollars in litigation to the employer.
How to Limit Liability for Employees' Cell Phone Use
While it is generally not possible to completely eliminate the possibility of liability, strictly enforced rules regarding employee behavior will go great lengths into any claims that you were negligent. There are a number of measures you can take to show that you were properly concerned for the safety of both the public and your employees:
- Prohibiting all cell phone use while driving: While this is certainly an extreme measure, forbidding employees to use company cell phones while driving, or to use personal cell phones to conduct company business, will certainly do a lot to rein in company liability. Employees should also be made to sign a statement reflecting this policy. In the alternative, employees should be instructed to at least pull over when using the phone.
- Require the use of hands-free cell phones if driving: If cell phone usage is absolutely essential, then this may be a helpful requirement. Although the differences in the rates of accidents for head-set users (in comparison to normal cell phone users) are negligible, most state laws only prohibit using hand held cell phones while driving. If these headsets are good enough to comply with state law, they may be good enough to avoid liability.
- Require employees to know the state cell phone laws: Educating your employees, and having them sign statements saying they understand cell-phone rules for your state is definitely a good idea.
- Only allow brief calls: Limiting employees to only making brief calls is a good way to lesson the risk of an accident, but should one happen, it will do little to curb liability.
- Prohibit personal calls: If your employee is making personal calls (even from their own cell phone), but is driving on company time, you can still be liable for any accidents caused.
- Indemnify: Make all employees sign statements declaring their sole liability in case of a cell phone based traffic accident.
- Enforce!: Merely going through the motions, but turning a blind eye to the driving cell phone use of your employees, will do little to protect you. Courts will want to see that you were serious about preventing these kinds of troubles, so don't make rules that you aren't serious about.
Seeking Legal Help
The first thing you should do, regardless of how you are involved, is to contact an attorney.
If you were hit by someone who was using a cell-phone: An attorney will be able to find out if the person was acting "in the course of employment" when he hit you, and possibly file a lawsuit against their employer for far more than you could receive from the person alone. A good lawyer will maximize the return you can get for your damages.
If you were the one on the cell-phone: An attorney will be essential in protecting your rights. If you were using your phone for business, your employer will likely try to deny any responsibility and blame the accident entirely on you. And even if you are hit by someone, the very fact that you were on a cell-phone, even if it had nothing to do with the accident, can suddenly make you liable. A good attorney (who may be provided by your insurance company) will be able to protect you from lawsuits and explain all your options to you. But if your employer hires a lawyer for you, realize that his first priority may be to protect the company, not you, so consulting an outside attorney is always helpful.
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Last Modified: 06-04-2014 10:12 AM PDT
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