Employer’s liability in professional driver-related car accidents

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If an accident happens while someone is driving a vehicle as part of his or her daily work duties (the case of truck driver or commercial vehicle drivers), we’re dealing with an “employer liability” situation.

There are two main legal reasons for which a company can be held accountable for a car crash caused by one of its employees:

  • Vicarious liability
  • Employer’s negligence.

Vicarious liability is applicable when the employee had express authority from the company to perform that specific task. For example, in truck driving cases, the court has to decide if the driver acted within the course of his daily tasks while driving the vehicle.

In other words, if the employee’s job is to get tourists from Point A to Point B, and he provokes an accident while driving, the employer can be held liable. However, if the driver deviates for non-work purposes, then he is outside the course of his legal employment.

Employer’s negligence includes:

  • Negligent hiring. When hiring a driver, it’s employer’s obligation to make sure that they’re hiring a safe driver, therefore, they should take precautions and check if:
    • The driver has a good standing commercial driver’s license
    • His driver’s license has not been suspended
    • Other additional background checks such as drug testing or past driving record.
  • Negligent employee retention and supervision. Tour bus companies should make sure all their drivers know and apply the federal and state safety laws.

Safety policies that employers can adopt to prevent crash risks

As an employer, if you have employees who drive for work purposes, you can do many things to minimize the risks of them being involved in car crashes. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Create a set of traffic safety policies and communicate them to all employees
  • Establish a driver agreement with all employees who drive for work purposes. By signing it, they acknowledge the understanding of company’s traffic safety     policies and expectations regarding their driving performance, vehicle maintenance and reporting of moving violations
  • Vehicle selection,  proper maintenance and routine inspection of the company vehicles
  • Check their driving records periodically, and not only at hiring. It’s your duty to screen out drivers with poor driving records, especially because they’re likely to repeat the behavior in the future
  • Define a number of violations an employee/driver can have before losing the privilege of driving for work, and provide training where indicated
  • Establish a crash reporting and investigation procedure. First of all, cars crashes, regardless of their severity, should be immediately reported to the employee's supervisor. Company’s traffic safety policies should clearly guide drivers through their responsibilities in a crash situation
  • Develop a disciplinary action system that determines the course of action after a traffic violation and/or a “preventable” crash occurred. For example, you can implement a system based on progressively assigning points for moving violations. In this way, you can determine if a driver develops a pattern of repeated traffic violations
  • Establish and implement a driver reward/incentive program that makes safe driving an integral part of your business culture. Involve monetary rewards, special recognitions or privileges
  • Incorporate driving performance into the overall evaluation of job performance.
  • Provide continuous driver safety training and communication. Even the most experienced drivers should benefit from periodic training and reminders of safe driving practices and skills.
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