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Are Employers Responsible for an Employee's Distracted Driving Accident?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 24, 2016 3:57 PM

As an employer, you should know that you can be held responsible for your employees' acts, and you should know that liability can extend to car accidents. But what if your employee was distracted at the time? What if they were texting or taking a phone call? Would it matter whether or not that call or text was work-related?

Here's how distracted driving laws could affect employer liability in the event of a car accident.

Vicarious Liability

One of the reasons you want to make good hires at your small business is because you can be on the hook if they screw up. And you definitely don't want to be on the hook for an employee's car accident. There are four general theories of employer liability in a car accident:

  1. Owner Liability Statutes: Some states impart strict liability for car accidents upon the car's owner, so if an employee was driving a company car, you would be liable.
  2. Negligent Maintenance: If you own the vehicle, it's your job to ensure proper maintenance, and you could be liable if improper care caused the car accident.
  3. Negligent Entrustment: You must also exercise due care before entrusting a third party with the vehicle, so if you failed to look into an employee's driving record, or knew that they shouldn't be driving, you may be held liable.
  4. Respondeat Superior: A Latin way of saying you're liable if an employee acts negligently while acting within the scope of his employment.

Distracted Liability

As the last theory notes, employers are vicariously liable for the negligent acts or omissions by their employees in the course of employment. So as long as the vehicle was being used for work or a work-related task, it probably won't matter whether the negligence that caused the accident was the employee rolling a stop sign or scrolling his Twitter feed. And if the employee is being distracted by a work message or call on his phone, that's an even stronger argument for employer liability if there's an accident.

Make sure your small business has implemented a strict distracted driving policy at work. And if you someone in your company got into a car accident, you might want to consult an employment attorney.

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