By: Walter J. Liszka, Esq.
For any business to be successful, it must be in contact with and ready to provide its services to its customer base. Be it a law firm, landscaping contractor, widget manufacturer, or an internet provider, customer interaction and satisfaction are the primary guideposts. Unfortunately, in this era of the need for "customer contact," employers may be exposing themselves and their assets to another avenue for litigation.
Employees who may be distracted by texting or talking on a cell phone while driving their automobile have, on occasion, caused accidents that have resulted in deaths, injuries, and the potential of multi-million dollar verdicts and/or settlements for their employers:
- In a fairly recent case, a verdict of over $24 million was the result of a tractor trailer driver's checking his cell phone for text messages when he ran into a number of vehicles that had been backed up in traffic on a freeway, killing 3 and injuring 15.
- An over $20 million verdict for a crash involved a driver who was driving a company car while texting rear-ended another vehicle, causing a fatality.
- An over $15 million settlement for a crash involved a salesman who was talking on his cell phone while driving to a sales appointment that caused extensive injuries.
No one can predict the future, but as sure as you are reading this article, failure to establish standards regarding the use of portable devices while driving for your employees will cause problems in the future.
Employers must establish a very clear and straightforward policy addressing the use of portable devices while driving. Some of the important components of such a policy should be:
- Employees who are driving are expected to observe all local and/or state laws regarding the use of cell phones or other portable devices while driving.
- Employees are expected (required?) to cease all driving activities before conducting any electronic business and are expected to use hands-free devices while in their automobiles, if allowed by local and/or state laws.
- Company-owned electronic devices must be monitored to ensure compliance with the employer's policy of non-use of electronic devices while driving.
- When seeking reimbursement for business-related calls from their private electronic devices, employees must certify that they have complied with the employer policy dealing with the use of electronic devices while driving.
- Should an employee admit to or be observed violating the portable devices/cell phone policy, they must be subject to discipline.
Customers are the "lifeblood" of any business. Keeping them happy and satisfied is the key, but that key must be used safely and always in control!