The distractions caused by cell phone use and other electronic gadgetry are increasing the exposure of employers to monetary exposure well beyond those benefits that employers are covered for under their workers’ compensation policies. A fatal accident contributed to by the employee’s use of a cell phone while driving resulted in a recent settlement of $5.2 million.
While employers’ are shielded to limited and scheduled statutory benefits under workers’ compensation for injures arising out of and in the course of their employment, injured third parties may pursue a civil action against the employer for the employees negligence. An employee who was distracted by cell phone use caused a motor vehicle accident that resulted in the death of a widowed mother of four children. Her estate filed a civil claim against the employer alleging that employee was negligent for using the cell phone while driving.
In a recent article in TRIAL magazine, Robert L. Sacks Jr., discusses the liability caused by text messaging and other distractions while driving. “Drivers with one hand on the wheel and one hand on the phone are a common sight, at least in states where it’s still legal to talk and drive. But the cell phone is only one of many potential high-tech distractions. It’s now possible to talk, text-message, take pictures, check the global positioning system (GPS), adjust the satellite radio, scroll through the pages of your MP3 player, send e-mail, and try to drive—all at the same time.”44 TRIAL 2 (February 2008).
Sacks cites the work of psychologists at the University of Utah that it is 50% more dangerous to drive while text messaging than while talking on a cell phone. This increase a serious danger to motorists.
This enhanced risk can result in serious economic liability to employers who permit or direct their employees to become distracted while driving in the course of their employment. Employers maybe wise to immediately issue rules prohibiting such activity.