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You might think distracted driving is not an employer’s problem. Think again. By Betsey Lund Ross
n our fast-paced, we-needit-today, business world, it’s not uncommon for employers to require employees to operate a motor vehicle as part of the employee’s duties or responsibilities. Delivery drivers and outside sales representatives, for example, spend most of their time on the road during the work day. Other employees may only occasionally be required to use a vehicle as part of their work duties. But when that employee is involved in a car accident, the employer, not the employee, will be liable for the employee’s accident if the employee was operating the vehicle “within the scope of employment” at the time of the accident.
Business Central Magazine // M A R C H /A P R I L 2 0 1 9
Contrary to popular belief, an employer’s liability for injuries or damages arising from an employee’s accident is not dependent on whether the employee was driving his own personal vehicle. Minnesota courts have consistently held an employer may be liable for the employee’s conduct if the employee was acting “within the scope of employment” at the time of the accident. The reason is due to Minnesota’s “vicarious liability” statutes, which state that an employer is liable for
the acts of its employees if the negligence or injury occurs within the employee’s scope of employment. Whether the incident arose within the employee’s scope of employment depends on the specific facts of the case. “Scope of employment” has been defined as occurring when the “employee’s conduct at the time of the conduct is done at least in part by a desire to serve or further the employer’s interest.” (Emphasis added.) Does hiring independent contractors alleviate an employer’s liability for car accidents? Not likely, at least according to one Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling where the Court held that if the independent contractor was driving for the company’s benefit, the company may still be held liable for any injuries or deaths caused by the independent contractor. Additionally, it does not matter whether the employee’s regular and general job duties include
driving responsibilities. So long as the employee’s negligence or accident occurred while the employee was acting within the scope of employment, the employer will likely be liable for the employee’s conduct. While an employer may not be able to entirely shield itself from liability, an employer can establish policies and practices to reduce the likelihood of employee vehicle accidents. 5 Establish clear and written policies prohibiting employees from driving while texting, driving while distracted, eating while driving, etc. 5 Ensure any employee who drives for the company’s benefit has a valid driver’s license and clean driving record. 5 Require employees to immediately report any traffic violations or accidents to the employer. 5 Create parameters for when the employee is authorized to use company vehicles.
Betsey Lund Ross is an attorney and shareholder with Lund Ross, P. A. in St. Cloud, MN, working in the areas of business law, employment law, and estate planning.
St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce Business Central Magazine.