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Cell Phone Lawsuits Can Cost Contractors Big Money

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It’s undeniable that cell phone use, whether calling, texting, or checking email, has become a part of everyday life. Businesses issue smart phones to their employees to help keep them connected when they are out in the field; dispatching calls and sending paperwork seamlessly. But, what is your liability in doing this?

According to the National Safety Council about one-quarter of all car accidents involve cell phones or texting, and with about 4.8 million accidents a year that adds up to around 1.2 million. What if just one of those accidents involved one of your employees in one of your trucks? Could you be held liable for damages, injuries, or deaths that occur as a result?

The answer is, yes. Distracted driving lawsuits are becoming more common and lawyers are oft en suing the company and not just the drivers. This can mean high dollar (we’re talking multimillion dollar) judgments or settlements coming out of business owners’ pockets.

So, what can contractors do to lessen their chances of being sued in a distracted driving case? According to John Blackall of Blackall Mechanical in Dallas, TX, there is a lot you can do. And number one on that list is making your employees aware of your program, hold training on the program, and have your employees sign a document saying they understand the program.

“We have had a policy in place for awhile, but a few years ago, we revamped it and reworked it,” said Blackall. “We had all our employees, veterans and new employees, sign a paper saying that they understood the policy and would abide by it.”

When it comes to the education part of Blackall’s program, he makes sure they have all their bases covered. “We cover distracted driving in our safety meetings at least quarterly and we record them,” he says. “Then we have proof that we have gone over the importance of not texting while driving and the importance of pulling over to take a call or check an email if it is so important it cannot wait until they have reached their destination.”

Blackall also has started using Pledge from PortNexus to help curb distracted driving with his sales people. Pledge prevents drivers from being able to send or receive texts while they are behind the wheel, effectively taking texting as a form of distracted driving out of the equation.

“We only use it with the sales staff, because they carry BlackBerrys and that is the only platform that Pledge works on right now,” says Blackall. “However, versions for the iPhone and Androids should be available soon and we will be taking the program company wide.”

While, Blackall admits that none of these things will prevent you from getting sued in the event of a distracted driving accident, it does show that the company did everything in their power to educate the employee.

And if an employee is caught violating the distracting driving and safety policy, it’s taken seriously by Blackall and his team.

“If an employee is in an accident and the accident is deemed to be the fault of our employee, they are responsible for half of the repair deductible,” says Blackall. “That is a huge deterrent for most of the drivers and it really changed the way they drove our vehicles. And if there are continued violations, the employee can be fired.”

Remember, by having a written and enforceable distracted driving policy in place, you are holding your employees accountable for their actions behind the wheel. While this may not prevent all accidents, it should reduce them. And in the event of a lawsuit against your company, it shows that your company discourages distracted driving and has a program in place for dealing with employees who violate the policy.

And Blackall reminds, “It may not just be your company that gets sued, but it could be you and the employee personally. We live in very litigious times, you could lose a whole lot more than just your business if you are not careful and don’t have a policy in place.”

Posted In: Legal

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