Accidents Related To Mobile Devices: Will Your Enterprise Be Liable?

The Legal Ramifications Of Distracted Employee Drivers



Steven Lerner
10/01/2018

Several years ago in Virginia, an attorney from a large Washington D.C. law firm was driving home from a firm event while conducting a work-related phone call on her mobile device. In the process, the attorney reportedly caused a serious car accident that resulted in another driver’s death. Consequently, the law firm was found to be legally responsible because the attorney was conducting work-related activities on her mobile device during the time of the accident.

“Even though it did not direct the attorney to make the call at that time, as long as the attorney was acting in the scope of her employment, the law firm was responsible for her negligence,” said D.C. attorney Tom Simeone.

This story begs the question: Can an enterprise be held liable for car accidents that occur while employees are using corporate-owned mobile devices?

Legal Ramifications Of Mobile Device Distractions In Car Accidents

Although an employee can be personally sued by an injured plaintiff for negligent driving, there is some debate about whether or not that liability can be extended to an enterprise if a corporate-owned device is involved.

“There is probably little or no employer legal liability when an employee is involved in a car accident while utilizing a company phone,” said David Reischer, Esquire. “This is because the cell phone product, if used properly, would not create a likelihood of harm. It is the responsibility of the driver to obey state laws while driving.”

While one lawyer said that companies are not usually liable for this behavior, the majority of attorneys agreed that a company can be held liable for the negligent acts of an employee while on a mobile device.

“If an employee is using a cell phone for business while driving — even if the ride is for personal, rather than business, purposes — the company may be liable for any accident,” said Simeone.

See Related: Mobile Liability Costing Enterprises $8.2B Annually

There is a bit of gray area when it comes to device ownership. For example, most legal experts contend that an injured plaintiff can sue a company for conducting work-related activities on a mobile device while at the time of the crash. However, if the employee is conducting personal activities on a corporate-owned device, the company may not be liable.

“If the employee is sending a work email and slams into the rear end of another car, the employer can be held responsible,” said Florida attorney Micah J. Longo. “On the other hand, if the employee is updating their Facebook status, the employer is likely not responsible because the employee was not acting within the scope of their employment.”

Additionally, even if an employee is conducting work-related activities on a personal mobile device during the time of an accident, the company could still be liable.

Protecting The Enterprise From Lawsuits

There are several steps that an enterprise should consider in order to avoid liability lawsuits from mobile device-induced car accidents caused by employees. The first step is to force all employees to agree to a strict no mobile device usage while driving policy with human resources. Next, companies should train workers to avoid operating mobile devices while driving. Activities such as viewing a daily schedule, calling clients, or sending an email should never be conducted while operating a moving vehicle.

“It’s one thing to train employees on the company’s policy. It’s another thing to actively monitor and strictly enforce the policy,” said Chelsie M. Lamie, Esquire. “As a plaintiff attorney, one of the things I am looking for during the discovery phase of litigation are documents that not only show me the company’s policy and training about driving and technology, but for records that show when and how policies were monitored and enforced. If employees violate the rules and there are no repercussions, the company is essentially condoning and encouraging this dangerous behavior.”

Companies should monitor and strictly enforce these types of rules for corporate owned devices. There are apps that enterprises can harness to limit the use of cell phones while a vehicle is in motion. Finally, a company should make sure that it has sufficient general liability insurance in case of a potential motor vehicle lawsuit.

Special thanks to Help A Reporter Out (HARO) for the quotes in this article.