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You can be sued for commuting accidents

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in Human Resources

Don't let employees who feel ill or impaired in any way drive home from work. Reason: You could be found liable for accidents they cause.

An important new court ruling throws out the conventional wisdom that says companies aren't liable for employees' actions during their typical commute to and from work. This ruling says that if an employee can show that the job contributed to the accident, your company can be held liable.

Recent case: The day after a company sprayed its factory for bugs, an employee complained that she felt ill at work. A supervisor offered to send her to the company doctor, but she declined. While driving home, she rear-ended another car. She told police she felt lightheaded before the accident.

The person in the other car sued the company for her injuries. An appeals court let the case go to trial. Reason: Companies are usually liable for injuries caused by employees only when the employee is "acting within the course of employment." But an exception to this rule exists: If the company could have foreseen a potential risk and didn't stop it, it can be liable for resulting injuries. (Bussard v. Minimed Inc., 105 Cal. App. 4th 798, Cal. App., 2nd Dist., 2003)

Bottom line: Pay attention to any illness or injury complaints that could be related to work. Be proactive. Provide transportation to medical care or home. Do the same in other circumstances in which driving might be impaired, such as after late-night work or where alcohol has been served. The cab ride home will be a bargain next to defending a lawsuit.

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