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Not By Accident: How to Handle an Employee’s Motor Vehicle Mishap

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As HVAC business owners soon find out—and sometimes all too soon—a distinct divide separates routine motor vehicle accidents: the personal versus the professional. While straightening out the details of a mishap that happens on your own time and dime can be as painless as pulling a dented fender back into shape, otherwise routine details take on a larger shape and scope when it involves your company car, van or truck—and one of your employees behind the wheel.

The statistics are sobering. OSHA estimates that motor vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion annually in medical care, legal expenses, property damage and lost productivity. In terms of your bottom line, here’s what that means: The average crash will cost you $16,500. When a worker has an on-the-job crash that results in an injury, the figure skyrockets to $74,000. And in the tragic event of a fatality, your loss can easily exceed half a million dollars.

No matter the scope of the accident, you can take assertive steps to contain damage to your business—and handle mishaps, especially the smaller ones, with a cool head. Which leads us to…

Don’t panic. While the latter half of the British maxim “Keep calm and carry on” doesn’t apply here, the first half definitely does. Emotions and snap judgments add nothing productive to the mix—and could even complicate matters. If you’re having a bad day when the news breaks, then step away from your desk, take a walk or close the office door until you collect yourself. Once you’re ready, take the crucial first step of putting your feelings aside (unless it’s concern for your employee and crash victims). Go straight into fact-gathering mode and tackling the situation.

Address and assess the damages. If your employee suffers injuries and requires medical attention, do everything you can to help that process move along as swiftly as possible. Police and emergency medical personnel will likely handle the major details, but you can step in by informing family and acting as a liaison if needed. The police report process will also help you get a handle on the events leading up to the accident, and the full extent of damage to your vehicle and its equipment.

Recap your insurance status. A crash happens in seconds; the resulting insurance paperwork can last for months on end. No one wants to dive into this complicated area but you’ll have to sooner or later. State-by-state requirements for workers’ compensation vary widely; the National Federation of Independent Business provides a table that explains how your state’s laws work. Your commercial insurance will likely pay for the injured driver’s injuries and property damages.

Talk to your lawyer. Hopefully, you already have an attorney on board who knows the ins and outs of lawsuits related to company vehicle accidents. If you don’t retain a lawyer, find one as soon as possible so you can prepare for the inevitable legal issues. Third parties often sue for pain and suffering, damages, medical bills and missed time at work. And even if you pride yourself as a loyal, compassionate boss, your own employee may turn around and sue you as well. Learning your legal options, and preparing for fallout from the accident, is not a matter you’ll want to leave to the last minute.

Be proactive and decisive with your other drivers. The subtle effects of an accident show up in how your team in the field reacts. If they’re jittery, reassure them that you’re committed to a safe fleet but don’t tell them: show them through your actions. If it turns out your driver was at fault in the wreck, try to determine the reason—drowsy driving, road rage, cell phone use—and use it as an opportunity to drive home the behavior you expect on the road.

So what is the best way to handle an accident? Without a doubt, it’s to head them off before they happen. It’s the dawn of 2016, and an ideal time for resolving to keep your fleet maintenance 100 percent up to date, if you’re not doing so already. OSHA also publishes a guide that outlines steps and strategies for employers to cut the risk of motor vehicle crashes.

And if you’ve been down this troubled road before, apply the lessons learned from the last incident. Perhaps you can’t; it’s winter and in many parts of the country, icy roads and snowstorms will challenge even the safest drivers. If the cause is out of their control, and yours, don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes, an accident is simply an accident—and the only thing you can control is how decisively you react to it.

Lou Carlozo

Posted In: Vehicles & Fleets

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