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Does Your Employee Handbook Prohibit Texting While Driving? It Should

Posted by Eric Parzianello on November 28, 2011

There is no doubt that texting while driving creates incredible and often deadly dangers.  A recent Florida case not only highlights those dangers but shows the financial risks which employers may face if their employees are texting while driving company cars.

On the morning of August 12, 2008, Lawrence Daniels, a pharmaceutical representative employed by Astellas Pharma US Inc., was driving a car owned by Astellas.  That same morning, James Caskey, was riding his bicycle around his North Naples neighborhood.  He was biking home when he was struck and killed by the car driven by Daniels.   A criminal proceeding found Daniels guilty of failing to yield at a stop sign.  Now, a civil case will determine whether Daniels was texting while driving.  If so, Collier County Circuit Judge Hugh Hayes has permitted Caskey’s widow to seek punitive damages against the driver and his employer according to a story in the Naples Daily News.  Punitive damages have no relation to the actual damages incurred but, rather, are intended to punish the defendants and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

Although Daniels denies he was using his cellphone while driving, cell phone records suggest otherwise.  Importantly for Daniels’ employer, its employee handbook did not require its drivers to pull to the side of the road to text. Daniels’ handbook simply said: “Use of a cellular phone in a company vehicle is permissible; however, cellular phone usage should be restricted as much as possible while driving.”  While Michigan laws prohibit texting while driving, Florida has not yet enacted such laws.  If Daniels was indeed texting while driving, his company’s failure to issue a policy prohibiting texting while operating its vehicles could be costly, as it eliminates at least one possible defense to company liability.  In Florida DUI cases, punitive damages of up to $500,000.00 are permitted.

While there are many employee handbooks available for download on various websites, including one found on the Small Business Administration’s website, consult your attorney to ensure particular issues which may be important to your business are addressed.

Once your policies are implemented, it’s also important to take measures to enforce them.   Last year, the Walt Disney Company updated their employee policies to prohibit the use of any electronic device to send or read text messages, e-mails or any other written communication while operating a vehicle.   Employees who fail to comply are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

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