A few years ago when I was still at one of the big law firms an e-mail was sent around to all the lawyers detailing a lawsuit in the U.S. against a large law firm. A lawyer at the firm was busy talking on her cell phone for business purposes and was too engaged in the conversation to notice a pedestrian. The lawyer’s car hit the pedestrian and killed him and the family sued not only the lawyer, but also the law firm. The argument was that the law firm was charging out the lawyer’s time and was making money from the lawyer being on the phone, so it should be responsible for the results that occurred. The e-mail that went around strongly recommended that the lawyers should refrain from using their cell phones while driving. Beyond the e-mail, though, I never heard anything more about the case until recently.
I was reading the latest issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine yesterday and there is an article on the issue of cell phone use in the car by employees. It mentioned the case against the law firm and I learned that the law firm, not surprisingly in the circumstances, settled the case. However, the article went on to discuss a few other U.S. cases that have gone to trial and the employers have been found liable for damage caused by their employees while they were doing business on their cell phones and driving their cars at the same time. To date no Canadian judgments have been given on this issue, but it appears to be only a matter of time.
Small businesses may want to take this potential liability into account – especially when they are being bombarded with promotions such as the recent one by Bell Canada where a new subscriber to Bell’s Blackberry service will get four additional Blackberrys (I’m sure they’re older models) for free to give to their staff and they can all share on the same voice/data plan. It sounds like a good promotion and I’m sure it’s worthwhile from a general business perspective. But it may come with a very large hidden price if the employer does nothing to ensure that the Blackberrys’ use is restricted when the employee is driving. Something to think about.