Protecting Your Small Business Against Texting Liability

Businesses need policies that prohibit sending text messages to employees while they’re driving

If you’re a small business owner and you don’t know yet about “remote texter” liability, then you may want to consider getting a policy in place to protect yourself and your business’s bottom line.

Remote texter liability is a legal concept that originated in the New Jersey appellate courts which makes a person liable for the injuries that result when he or she knowingly texts someone who ends up causing a texting- or distracted driving-related car crash.

This is serious business for small businesses who communicate regularly with their employees via text — especially while the employee is driving during the course and within the scope of his or her employment.

How would remote texter liability fit with existing Michigan law?

Under existing law in Michigan, employers are liable for the injuries and damages caused by their employees’ negligence.  But the “remote texter” concept adds a new layer of liability that may — in the right case with the right facts — justify a Michigan jury’s award of “exemplary damages.”

Although the “remote texter liability” ruling originated in New Jersey, courts in Michigan could adopt and apply its logic here.

What policies should small businesses have to protect against remote texter liability?

For businesses that are grappling with how to stop employees from reading and sending text messages while they’re driving, consider some or all of the following provisions for inclusion in your company’s employee manual:

  • While driving during work hours and/or in the course of his or her employment, an employee must comply with the company’s texting-while-driving and distracted-driving policies, which includes, but is not limited to, refraining from hand-held or hands-free use of a cell phone to text, to respond to texts, to talk on the phone, to surf the internet and to play games.
  • While driving during work hours and/or in the course of his or her employment, an employee must pull over and stop at a safe location to text, dial and/or otherwise use or talk on a cell phone or electronic device.
  • An employee cannot and will not be disciplined, sanctioned or in any way punished for refusing to respond to text messages from his or her employer if and when those texts are sent and received while the employee is driving.

The bottom line for small businesses is this: If you text your employees while they’re behind the wheel and they get in a car crash, injuring or killing someone else, then you could be sued on the theory of “remote texter liability” and you and your small business could be held financially liable.

For additional advice on car insurance coverage issues, visit the Michigan Car Accidents Guide.

Michigan Auto Law helps people seriously injured in Michigan car and truck accidents with five offices throughout the state, including one in downtown Grand Rapids.  For more information on protecting yourself visit our Grand Rapids Local Resources.