Q&A with Nathan Whatley
Distracted driving on the clock
Q: There have been an increasing number of big judgments against employers whose employees have been involved in distracted-driving accidents while on the clock. What is contributing to these cases?
A: In many of these cases, the employee's use of a cellphone or mobile device has been cited as the cause of the accident. A jury ordered an employer to pay $21.6 million to the family of a Florida woman who was killed when an employee in a company car rear-ended her because he was distracted and didn't react when traffic slowed. A federal magistrate ordered an Alabama trucking company to pay $18 million because of an accident that happened when one of its drivers reached for a cellphone. An Arkansas lumber company was ordered to pay $16.1 million after its salesman caused an accident that crippled a 78-year-old woman.
Q: What steps should employers take to avoid or limit their exposure for distracted driving accidents?
A: All employers — not just those whose employees drive as part of their jobs — should not only have clear cellphone usage policies in place, but also take steps to train and educate employees on the policies and on the known dangers of cellphone use while driving. The best policies should extend beyond the requirements of state and local laws, and you should be very strict in enforcing them.