Distracted Employee Driving: Is the Employer or Employee Responsible?

By Peter DePaolis

It happens every day on the road.

A delivery person checks their social media updates while driving around, a manager takes a call on his way to work, and a sales associate texts friends while waiting in traffic on their way to their next meeting.

All are examples of employees engaging in distracted driving. However, when the employee is doing the act, would the employer take the blame for those acts if he or she causes an accident?

Distracted driving is becoming an all-too-common cause of accidents in the United States. According to the National Safety Council, distracted driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 40 percent of work-related fatalities are from motor vehicle crashes.

In instances where an employer causes an accident due to distracted driving, the employer can be held at fault. Also, with more workers operating remotely, the chances of an employer dealing with an employee who causes an accident are increasing. This means employers, employees, and victims need to understand the laws and how they apply to employee-caused distracted driving accidents.

Vicarious Liability and How It Impacts a Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia Business

One reason a business owner is liable for accidents caused by their employees is the in area of vicarious liability law. Employers, even small business owners, are responsible for the actions of their employees while they are on the clock. Under vicarious liability, four general theories would allow a victim to sue the employee and employer for injuries:

Car Owner Liability

Some states use what is known as strict liability for accidents involving their vehicles. Therefore, if the employee causes an accident in a company-owned vehicle, they could automatically be at fault for the crash.

Poor or Negligent Maintenance Practices

Employers are required to maintain all vehicles in their fleet and remove them from service if they are a risk to the public. When an employer fails to correct known issues, maintain the vehicle, or repair it, they are liable for any accidents caused by those defects.

Likewise, the company responsible for maintaining the vehicle (such as a third party repair shop) may be held liable for the accident if a maintenance or negligent repair is the cause, and their technicians failed to notify the employer of the hazard.

Failure to Investigate an Employee’s Driving Past

Before allowing an employee to use a company vehicle, employers must review their driving record and history. If an employer were to allow an employee to operate a car knowing they have multiple DUIs on their record, then that employee caused a drunk driving crash, the employer’s negligence would make them liable.

The Theory of Respondeat Superior – the Ultimate Vicarious Liability

In Latin, “respondeat superior” means that one is liable for employee acts when they do those negligent acts under the scope of regular employment.

How Does Distracted Driving Fit into These Categories?

Employers are liable for acts or omissions of employees if they cause an accident during the course of their employment. Therefore, if an employee is off-duty and not operating as part of their job, the employer would not be liable.

For example, an employee driving his or her own vehicle to work, who causes on accident due to distracted driving, would not fall under employer liability. They were not on the clock, and they were also driving their personal vehicle.

In another example, an employee is driving to work in a company vehicle and stopping to pick up files from a client’s office. They are carrying out duties of their employment; therefore, any accidents they cause would fall under vicarious liability and the employer could be named as a defendant in a lawsuit.

Can You Sue the Employer and Employee?

In most cases, yes, you can name both as defendants. In reality, most attorneys will suggest that you put your focus on the employer, simply because they will have the resources to pay for the compensation you need. However, it is best to consult with an attorney to see which parties you may name in the suit as well as potential third parties.

Third parties may include automobile manufacturers, companies who manufactured faulty parts (if a faulty part caused the accident), or another third party.

Compensation in Distracted Driving Cases

There are strict laws in place to reduce instances of distracted driving. Therefore, if you or a loved one is injured in a distracted driving accident, you might find it is easier to prove your claim if that driver is given a citation for their distracted driving.

If successful, you may receive compensation for:

  • Medical expenses – including any projected costs for your injuries if you will have a long-term recovery
  • Personal property damage – things like your vehicle and belongings in the vehicle damaged in the accident. You may also receive compensation for the cost of vehicle replacement if your car is totaled in the accident
  • Lost wages or loss compensation in the future – if you are unable to work as you recover, or if you suffer permanent or partial disability
  • Pain and suffering – for the physical, mental and emotional trauma that you suffered in the accident

Hire an Attorney for Your Distracted Driving Claim

While it is possible to hold an employer liable in these cases, it is imperative that you do not assume you have a lawsuit against an employer just because an employee was involved. Instead, you should consult with an attorney that has experience handling accident claims and one that will aggressively fight for your right to compensation.

To get started, meet with an attorney from the firm of Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP. Our team is here to represent you in your accident case, negotiate with insurance companies, and investigate to find out which parties can be held accountable for your serious injuries.

Schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation with an attorney now by calling one of our three convenient office locations or by contacting a member online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.