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Companies Held Liable for Accidents Involving Distracted Employees

Jonathan Hernandez7 months ago

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and this week on the blog, we take a look at major cases involving distracted drivers in the United States.

Dyke Industries Involved in Distracted Driving Accident Causing Injury

In December of 2001, Dyke Industries, a wholesale lumber supplier, was ordered to pay nearly $21 million to a 79-year-old woman who had to be on a respirator after an accident that happened in March of that year that involved one of Dyke Industries’ salesmen.

The accident happened when a Ford Explorer, being driven by Lazaro Luis Leiva, was involved in a collision with another vehicle. A passenger in the other vehicle, Alicia Bustos, was seriously injured in the accident. According to cellphone records from the accident, Leiva was on the phone with a client just seconds before he dialed 911 after the accident.

Ms. Bustos and her husband sued the company, saying that the company was vicariously responsible for the accident since Mr. Leiva was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident happened. On December 14, a jury awarded Bustos and her husband $20.9 million.

Law Firm Responsible in Distracted Driving Accident Causing Death

Another accident involving a company lawsuit happened that involved a law firm. The case involved a former associate of the firm, Jane Wagner, who accidentally hit and killed a 15-year-old girl while driving in her car and, according to the plaintiff, was conducting business on a cellphone.

The lawsuit alleges that the Cooley Godward Law Firm as not only vicariously responsible for the accident, but was also directly negligent. The suit charged that Jane Wagner was acting within her scope of employment when making phone calls to clients and that the firm encouraged the use of cellphones to conduct business. At the time of the accident, the firm had failed to establish a safe use of cellphone police while driving. 

Attorneys for the law firm argued that it was Ms. Wagner’s driving activity that caused the accident and that they were not liable because she was driving home at the time of the accident, and was thus not acting within her scope of employment. The court held Colley Godward vicariously responsible because the phone call was work-related.

Important Information about Cellphone Use While Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are thousands of wrongful deaths of people killed in accident involving cellphone use in the United States every year:

  • Drivers in their 20s represent 27 percent of the distracted drivers who were on their cellphones at the time of the accident.
  • At any given time in the United States, there are an estimated 660,000 drivers using their cellphones while driving.
  • The average glance at the cellphone while driving lasts for five seconds, which, when traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour, translates to driving the length of a football field without looking. 

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