Are You Protecting Your Firm from Liability for Those Who Drive on the Firm’s Behalf?

Just in case you somehow missed it:

Effective January 29, 2007 all motorists in Pennsylvania MUST turn on their headlights whenever they use their windshield wipers in inclement weather. This new law applies when wipers are fully on or in intermittent mode. Violators will be fined $25 but fees/other costs will increase the amount to $100!!!

Also, motorists will suffer substantial penalties if snow or ice on their vehicle injures or kills someone. This is the first winter this law will be on the books. Spread this information to all PA drivers that you know. Don’t get a ticket because you were not knowledgeable about this new law.

Many law firms with staff who drive on behalf of their firm don’t realize that they might be assuming liability needlessly, or through simple neglect. For example, an attorney who was using her cell phone on business while driving accidentally hit and killed a pedestrian. The court refused to dismiss liability against her firm because nothing in the firm’s policies restricted this practice or specifically stated it was outside the scope of employment.

Nowadays, it’s important, particularly if you have a written handbook, to spell out certain requirements or restrictions, in order to limit the firm’s liability exposure. Here’s a short list which applies to those who drive on behalf of the firm:

1) make sure you get a copy of the employee’s current driver’s license as the old one expires. Keep a copy in the personnel file.

2) if the employee will use their own car, make sure you get proof it is inspected and deemed “street worthy” each year.

3) make sure the employee has adequate insurance, renewed each year. Keep a copy of their certificate of insurance in their personnel file. Include language in your handbook which clearly spells out who is responsible for the damage deductible in case of an accident while on firm business.

4) request or require that employee’s friends and relatives, especially children, be restricted from riding in the vehicle while it is being used to conduct business on behalf of the firm.

5) make sure you include language that says that the employee is required to adhere to all motor vehicle rules and regulations in whatever state they drive on behalf of the firm, and that failure to do so falls outside of the scope of employment.

6) make sure you include language that says that cell phones are only to be used when safely pulled off to the side of the road, and that failure to do so falls outside of the scope of employment.

7) include general language which encourages employees to always drive safely, to be courteous drivers, to not drive when using medications or alcohol, even if within legal safety limits, or when sleep deprived.

Remember that these rules should apply to ALL employees, including attorneys. Even if they are not followed, they will at least serve to limit the firm’s liability if an unfortunate event occurs.

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