Safety and OSHA News

Employee causes off-work accident: Is company to blame?

Imagine this: Your company faces a lawsuit because an employee caused an off-work car accident. The injured people claim the employee’s long work hours helped cause the accident.

John Keenan crashed his car into another driven by Laurie Riley. Her husband, Gregory, was a passenger.

While her husband’s injuries were minor, Laurie suffered knee and pelvis injuries that left her unable to work.

The Rileys claim Keenan’s long work shifts at Glen Habina & Sons, Inc., were partially to blame for the accident.

Keenan usually worked eight-to-nine hour days as a vehicle driver. But sometimes, after he completed his driving shift, he worked several more hours repairing vehicles.

On the day of the accident, Keenan worked his regular shift but didn’t work any extra hours repairing vehicles.

After work, he went to at least one bar. After the accident, his blood-alcohol level was measured at .178. At trial, an expert estimated that Keenan had consumed 13 12-ounce beers before the accident.

The Rileys claimed the combination of work fatigue and alcohol consumption caused the crash and sought to hold two bars and his employer responsible.

Good news for employers: A jury and then a state appeals court both ruled sensibly. They found that the alcohol consumption was a factor in the crash, but not work fatigue because on the day of the crash he hadn’t worked long hours.

The appeals court noted other courts have found employers liable when their employees cause auto accidents after required long work shifts.

But the court said that wasn’t the case here. Keenan worked only nine hours on the day in question, and he had a sufficient rest period — at least 13.5 hours — before his previous shift.

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  • http://safetynewsalert.com Glenn D

    Ok. Where is personal responsibility here? If a person is too tired to drive:

    1 Pull over and take a cat nap
    2 Call a friend or spouse to pick you up
    3 Take a cab
    4 Take a No-Doze or other stimulant
    5 Live closer to where you work
    6 Don’t volunteer for overtime
    7 Get checked for Sleep Apnea

    I think this is nothing more than the plaintiff’s blood-sucking lawyer looking for a way to find deep pockets to drive up the award and hence their 40% fee plus expenses. The employer’s liability insurance is a nice place to go instead of the bars that the guy got rip roaring drunk at.

  • LEU

    Blood-sucking trial lawyer, indeed. The mere fact that they TRIED to reach back and nail the employee’s company is disgusting. BA level of .178 is over twice the limit for driving under DWI, and he admitted drinking 13 beers? Puh-leeze. AS Shakespeare once said, “First we kill all the lawyers.”

  • Bob Knouse

    I gotta go with Glenn D, it boils down to responsibility. When will people learn there’s always some ambulance chaser who will gladly take your money. The safe and proper operation of a vehicle or piece of equipment is always the responsibility of the driver. In most states it’s in the Drivers Handbook and definately in the CDL handbook, If the driver is fatigued he is to relieve himself of duty. A lot of these personal lawyers try and make it just a bit less expensive to settle than go to court, that’s the game.
    “The appeals court noted other courts have found employers liable when their employees cause auto accidents after required long work shifts.” which other courts, jury trials playing on sympathy? ‘Cuz without mitigating circumstances a judge will throw them out upon appeal. The driver can always call a cab.

  • LEU

    These dirt-bag lawyers know that if they get a company named as defandant, one of two things will probably happen: the insurance company for the defandant will likely settle and make it go away, or if it gets to a trial, a jury will side for the poor, poor plaintiff against the mean old deep pocket company. We need a loser pays system to stop frivolous lawsuits.

  • Cindy

    I just hope that the company had a policy about eligibility to drive a company vehicle after a whopper DUI. I hope the fool lost his job in the process. We have a strict policy about driving records of employees who drive for us, even foremen.

    I agree with the blood sucking, ambulance chasing, bottom feeding lawyers. They will file lawsuits for completely stupid reasons and that part needs to change. Lawyers should be fined if they file a friviolous lawsuit that wastes the court’s time and defendants money. Then they would think twice before promising some butt slug lots of money.

  • Chris

    0.178 = 13 beers? Maybe if he was drinking O’Douls.

  • John

    You guys and gals are entertaining! Again, I agree with LEU.

  • Bill

    Don’t blame the lawyer here! He/she was simply doing their job, which is to zealously represent their client. The employer was listed as a defendant because based on the attorney’s legal research, there was a line of cases (precedent) that indicated that employers who required / allowed employees to work long hours could be liable. For the lawyer, failure to include such an obvious defendant would be legal malpractice.

    In this case, the court ruled otherwise, and in the employers favor. This ruling does NOT indicate that the inclusion of the employer was a “frivolous” inclusion.

    Yes, the likelihood of the employer having better insurance than the other driver probably also drove the decision. You don’t waste your time and energy suiing an entity that has no ability to pay.

    Finally, don’t forget — the “contingency fee” system is both a blessing and a curse to plaintiff’s and defendants, as well as attorneys. The attorney has to pay all the costs of litigation up front — sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if there is no verdict in their favor, they collect nothing. If the verdict doesn’t cover their costs, they lose. Contingency fees shift the risk of a loss from the plaintiff to the plaintiff’s attorney. Given the cost of litigation, plaintiff’s attorneys (well, the good ones anyway) really research and “cherry pick” their cases. No one wants to saddle a dog.

    For a plaintiff, a contingency fee means that cases get brought that are GOOD cases, but if the plaintiff had to front the fees and costs of litigation, would never get brought forward. “Yes Charlie, you are injured, and the facts and law indicate that the defendant would be required to reimburse you, but since you don’t have $45,000 lying around to bring this case to trial, I have to pass” said the trial attorney under a “fee per hour only” system. The defendant in Charlie’s case gets a pass because Charlie is poor, out of work, and still injured.

    Are there abuses? Sure. But there is no such thing as a perfect system.

    Win, lose, or draw … every employer who read this article now knows that they can be liable if they make their employees work 14 hour days and then send them down the road. How many are reviewing their policies and making changes as a result?

    And they say the legal system doesn’t work…..

  • Leslie

    And what happens when the employee is not a driver, is on his way to work and has an accident. My company was sued by the wife of a man who already had an accident. He was trying to make a cell phone call and to get reception walked out into the freeway. Our guy hit him and he was killed. The wife sued my company and was awarded. Where is the justice in that. The company had nothing to do with the accident. He did not drive for us. He was not tired from many hours of work, but we were still blamed.

  • Ed

    I have to agree/disagree with Bill. Yes the lawyer needs to represent their client, but should also realize when they are reaching for the stars. The guy was legally drunk and instead of suing him and perhaps the bars, he went the long ball, knowing that even if it didn’t reach the fence, he’d still get something out of it.

    The only thing this does is put more level of middle managers in place and force a lot more sleepless nights for small business owners who can’t afford to put a manager on duty 24/7 to watch every driver you have. Then you have to have a manager to watch the managers and the whole thing adds to the bottom line.

    So the business owner doesn’t take on business that is outlying, he doesn’t hire additional drivers (more exposure) and he cuts the OT out for the other drivers. Less work, fewer customers and if you are too far away, no service. Yep, that works until the next lawsuit because someone worked a half hour of OT. Small businesses don’t need the stress, the hassle or the headaches, which means fewer job generators in a lousy economy.

    Personal responsibility anyone?

  • Mark

    My nephew was killed by a driver who just finished working 20 hours. It was 2 miles from his workplace and he ran a stop sign, and T-boned my nephew in a rural area, hitting him hard enough to flip the car. No alcohol was involved. I believe that the company (or the insurance company) settled out of court for a considerable sum of money because the driver had no money.