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Could you be sued for commuting accidents?

by on
in Human Resources

Issue: Employees aren't "on the clock" during their commute, so you can't be sued for car accidents they cause, right? Wrong.

Risk: A recent ruling has sparked a new liability risk: allowing "impaired" employees to commute home.

Action: Tell managers to call a cab or arrange a ride home for any employee who may be impaired when leaving the workplace.

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

That's why you should never let employees who feel ill or impaired in any way drive home from work. Be proactive. In addition to providing transportation in cases of medical illness, do the same when alcohol has been served or even when the employee had to work an unusual late-night shift. The cab ride home will prove a bargain next to defending a lawsuit.

Recent case: The day after a com-pany 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)

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