A recent out-of-court settlement reinforces the need for employers to warn employees about the danger of electronic multitasking on the road. An Illinois employer recently agreed to pay $4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman whose car was broadsided by one of its employees. The employee was driving a company van, became lost and was using the navigational device on his Blackberry when he ran a red light and struck her vehicle.
The settlement was reached on the eve of trial, undoubtedly because the employer (and its insurer) recognized that the public has an especially low tolerance level for drivers who use electronic devices while driving. Unfortunately, because use of these devices is often tied to work, employers are particularly vulnerable when such accidents occur.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to lessen the potential risk.
- First and foremost is to implement a policy prohibiting the use of electronic devices while driving on company business. The policy should apply regardless of whether the equipment or the vehicle is owned by the employer.
- A policy is meaningless if it is not enforced, and any violations should result in significant disciplinary action, as well as the return of the company-provided equipment.
- Employee meetings to discuss and reinforce the policy are also a good idea. They serve to alert employees to the dangers and to make sure they recognize the importance of the issue to the employer.
This settlement emphasizes once again that employers need to be proactive about hot button issues like this. It is doubtful that the employer would have felt compelled to agree to such a high settlement amount if the employee had merely run the light. A few relatively simple measures taken now will perhaps help to avoid the kind of no-win situation faced by this employer.