The National Safety Council is urging employers to enact policies to reduce their liability with regard to workers who use cell phones while driving.
Our North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers know that the state already has a ban on texting while driving.
But even these laws may not eliminate employer liability for cell-phone related crashes involving workers, particularly if employers are expecting their employers to remain in constant contact with supervisors while on the road.
It’s estimated that one-quarter of all crashes everywhere in the country involve distracted drivers, with a large number of those instances attributed to cell phone usage. The NSC notes that employers that don’t have a specific policy in place that bars employees from using cell phones while operating a motor vehicle have exposed their workers to the potential for injuries and their company to the potential for liability.
Vehicle crashes in general are the No. 1 cause of work-related deaths in the country, accounting for about 25 percent of all fatalities. For employers, employee crashes are expensive, costing on average about $25,000 in property damage and $150,000 for injuries per crash.
That’s why the NCS is hosting two different seminars to serve as informational guides on prevention. The agency has also released promotional materials to employers in other parts of the country on reducing liability.
A total ban on cell phones by an employer would ideally cover:
- All employees;
- All company vehicles;
- All company cell phones’
- Both handheld and hands-free devices;
- All work-related communications, even on personal phones and in personal vehicles.
There is ample evidence for why this is so important. The NSC cites a case in 2010 in which a young woman and her elderly mother were stopped at an intersection on a rural road when a cable company pickup truck careened toward them at 70 miles per hour. Upon impact, the two women died instantly. The cable truck driver told authorities he had been texting prior to the crash, his vehicle operating on cruise control.
As the NCS notes, even when employee drivers are abiding by state laws, these measures often constitute the minimum actions required. As a result, employers are encouraged by the NCS to exceed those regulations with their own internal policies.
Even in cases where a company doesn’t own the car or the cell phone, it may still be held liable for worker injuries or fatalities that occur as a result of work-related, in-vehicle calls. In particular, companies that encourage in-vehicle cell phone use by employees risk increased liability. This is especially true given the fact that there has been an increased awareness of the issue in the public at-large. Employers can no longer claim ignorance on the issue. In fact, failure to have such a policy could be deemed as reckless or even grossly negligent.
Workers employed at such firms should take their safety concerns to supervisors or a human relations administrator, and document those encounters and responses.
Injured on the job? Contact the Lee Law Offices today for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. Call 800-887-1965.
Employer Cell Phone Policy Seminars, How to Keep Your Workplace Safe and Reduce Liability, Press Release, National Safety Council, January 2013
More Blog Entries:
A Picture is Worth 1,000 Safety Concerns, Jan. 13, 2013, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog