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In May 2012, a jury in Texas handed down a $21 million verdict against Coca-Cola for damages arising from an August 2010 distracted driving crash involving one of its employees using a mobile phone while driving. As we head into 2013, here are three important lessons commercial risk and fleet managers can learn from this historic case:

  1. When it happens to you, the plaintiffs will sue:  Thomas J Henry, the lead plaintiff's attorney said in a press release, "From the time I took the Coca-Cola driver's testimony and obtained the company's inadequate cell phone driving policy, I knew we had a corporate giant with a huge safety problem on our hands."  Furthermore, he said, "I hope the verdict sends a message to corporate America that you can't have employees on a cell phone and endanger the motoring public."The lesson is simple: plaintiffs are watching and waiting to sue employers whenever employees crash due to a cell phone related distractions.
  2. A written cell phone use policy is not enough:  The plaintiff successfully argued that Coca-Cola’s cell phone policy for its delivery drivers was “vague and ambiguous” and it wasn't enforced in any meaningful way. Simply stated, if written policies are not enforced, then written policies will not minimize employer risk and liability.
  3. Policy enforcement is critical: Case law in the US clearly shows that employers should expect to be held accountable for damages that occur when employees drive distracted. Therefore, to truly reduce risk in the eyes of a jury, a company should consider utilizing technology best practices to actively or passively encourage safe and legal use of mobile devices while employees are driving.

As we close out 2012 and head into 2013, the year ahead promises mobile devices than ever in the hands of employee drivers.

Whether employees use the devices in a safe and legal manner while driving is entirely up to the employer. Fleet operators who stand by and do nothing will be sued and vicariously implicated by juries when the inevitable crashes occur. Fleets who adopt policies, conduct training and utilize best practices to encourage compliance will save lives and dramatically reduce risk and liability.

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