The short answer: you might be. Granted, only a law professional with the proper expertise and an understanding of your particulars can say anything definite, consider the following.
- If an employee is doing something on your behalf, you might be liable if they get into an accident. If they are driving to drop off a package, pick up paper for the printer, get a client from the airport, and so forth, the line can be blurry. Performing a task because it benefits the employer or the employer directly wants that action to take place qualifies as a potential affirmative.
- You may be liable if an employee is driving during work hours. Workers are working during work hours doing work related things you, their employer, want them to do.
- If your policies do not curb problem driving and/or deal with problem drivers in some way, you could be liable. Agents acting on your behalf are your responsibility, possibly, including any harm that they cause especially if previous problematic patterns are present.
The answer is also you might not be.
- If drivers are doing something not work related, you might not be liable. Getting a latte for themselves and only themselves is not work related. So is picking up their kid and all their kid’s friends at 3pm when school gets out, which is before 5pm when their work day ends.
- You might not be liable if that worker was driving recklessly or performing some other reckless behavior. As a rule, an employer is not infinitely responsible for their agent’s actions and once that employee crosses the line, they are responsible for their own actions. The exact nature of that line is usually determined in a court of law, but if Johnny Employee, while on the job, is driving a 100mph and text selfies to his buddies in a school zone when school is getting out, his actions will likely exceed the reasonable responsibilities of his employer.
- Further, if you show reasonable care in curbing problem driving, you might not be liable. Reprimanding, suspending, or firing problem driver-employees are demonstrative attempts to keep you and yours from doing bad things on the road. Such efforts might help your cause should an incident occur because so-and-so employee has a lead foot and a smart phone addiction.
What can I do?
Short answer: quite a bit.
- Monitoring where your drivers are coming and going from can help determine if your driver was performing a task on your behalf. Did your driver’s trip start from the office supply store or a coffee shop? No matter what tale they tell you and other parties interested in an unfortunate incident, you have GPS proof of where they were driving from when that unfortunate incident occurred.
- Additionally, showing that you monitor employees for problem driving can shield you from unnecessary risk should an accident occur. Without such tools, however, demonstrating how policies that discourage poor driving behaviors are enforced or improve safety at large may prove difficult.
- Lastly, by implementing safety precautions that are standard to your or similar industries, you reduce your overall exposure to risk before and after an accident. Showing that you are keeping up with pack demonstrates that you are conscientious and cognizant, and quite the opposite of negligent, in the day to day sense.
Fleet management tools have entered a golden age of accessibility and affordability, and that trend will continue. Reduced liability is usually an afterthought for a business owner implementing such a system, but should really be a top reason. Unlike auto or home insurance, the benefits of fleet management are immediate in addition to long-term. Bottom-line, implementing a fleet management system just to reduce liability is more than worth it.