Many Fortune 500 Companies Banning Cell Phone Use to Avoid Auto Accident Liability


February 05, 2011

A recent survey of Fortune 500 companies revealed that one in five Fortune 500 companies have implemented complete bans on all cell phone use while driving, in response to growing concerns regarding liability over cell phone related auto accidents by their employees. Almost half of the companies that have implemented such bans have done so after 2007, indicating a growing awareness of the risk posed by distracted drivers and the potential liability of employers.

A fair amount of research indicates that cell phone use, including talking, texting and other smart phone use, constitutes the most prevalent driver distraction. Data shows that drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a car accident when using a cell phone. The recent survey result suggests that employers are taking steps to protect their employees and others with whom they share the road by implementing total cell phone bans. At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, we have been representing Georgia car accident victims who suffer serious injuries and wrongful death for over 25 years.

The trend of employers toward implementing bans on cell phone use reflects growing concern amongst employers with potential liability for auto accidents involving their employees while using a cell phone. Some of these cases have resulted in large settlements or verdicts for those injured or killed in cell phone related distracted driving accidents involving employees, frequently with surprising results:

Company Settles Despite Employee Violation of Company Hands Free Policy: This case brought against International Paper Company by an Atlanta woman settled for $5.2 million in 2007. The woman lost her arm after being rear-ended by the company's employee who was talking on her cell phone. This case is somewhat surprising because the company settled despite the employee's violation of a company policy that expressly prohibited employees from talking on a cell phone and restricted cell phone use to hands free use only.

Law Firm Settles $30 Million Lawsuit after Attorney Kills Pedestrian: The Virginia law firm settled the 2004 case for an undisclosed amount after one of its attorneys collided with and killed a pedestrian while the attorney was talking on the phone with a client. In this case, the attorney was clearly involved in law firm business, which was both encouraged and anticipated by the employer.

Jury Awards $21 Million to Passenger Struck by Salesperson Making Sales Call: A Florida jury in 2001 awarded $21 million to the family of a passenger who was killed when struck by another driver who was making a sales call on behalf of the company at the time of the collision. Again, this is an example of an employee clearly engaged in activity on behalf of the employer which had no policy prohibiting such conduct and apparently anticipated and expected that its salespeople engaged in such activity.

$500,000 Settlement Where Employee Killed Motorcyclist While Talking on Personal Phone After Hours: A Pennsylvania investment firm settled a case for $500,000 when their employee struck and killed a motorcyclist while making a work-related call on the employee's personal phone after normal work hours. Again, despite the fact the employee was using a personal cell phone and conducting business outside of normal business hours, the employer appears to have been motivated to settle because the employee was clearly conducting company business.

These cases make clear that an employer can face enormous liability for serious injuries or wrongful death caused by their employees in distracted driving auto accidents. These cases share one thing in common in that in each case there was little dispute that the employees were engaged in company business. This fact seemed to override such factors as the employee using a personal cell phone, operating outside business hours or violating company policy limiting cell phone use to hands free calls only.

These results are consistent with the general legal theories that typically govern employer liability for injuries caused by employees. The doctrine of respondeat superior, which is the law in many states including Georgia, provides that an employer is liable for injuries caused by its employee if that employee was acting within the course and scope of his or her employment at the time the accident occurred. An additional basis of liability that may be asserted is that the employer is liable for their own negligence in failing to have policies prohibiting cell phone use while driving or encouraging employees to engage in distracted driving practices including use of a cell phone while driving.

These cases are extremely complex and can turn on very subtle difference in the specific facts. An experienced Georgia distracted driving auto accident attorney will be able to advise you on how these subtle differences in the facts may impact your case. A few examples of problematic and difficult factual situations include the following:

  • An employee going out to lunch and on his own decides he will also conduct a business errand at some point during the excursion.
  • The employer has a written policy expressly banning cell phone use while driving but is aware that the policy is routinely violated and that the company ignores such violations or even tacitly approves such conduct.
  • The employer does not issue company cell phones and does not authorize business conducted outside company hours, but the employee is clearly engaged in business for the benefit of the employer.

These examples show how complex the legal and factual issues can be when an employer is sued for serious injuries or wrongful death caused by their employee in an auto accident while using a cell phone. It is sometimes very important that the liability of an employer be established because an employer will often have more resources to pay a judgment or settlement and more insurance coverage. Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, represents Georgia car accident victims who are hurt or killed by distracted drivers using cell phones throughout Georgia. If you or someone you love has been injured by a distracted driver, we can advise you regarding your legal rights and explain the legal and factual issues involved in your auto accident case.

For information on Montlick & Associates' extensive efforts to prevent injuries by educating the public on the dangers of texting while driving, click here. To see our two minute news segment on Distracted Driving that appeared on ABC News, click here.

Our experienced Georgia distracted driver auto accident attorneys are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located we are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24 hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.