It can be scary for fleet managers to stop and think about liability, which is one of the primary reasons why they don’t do it very often. But not thinking about liability doesn’t make it go away, or reduce the amount of liability you’re exposed to. The reality -which has been demonstrated through several court cases and lawsuits — is that fleet managers shoulder a large degree of responsibility for the actions of their fleet drivers.

The question is: What can fleet managers do to protect themselves from the reckless actions of their drivers?

There are several aspects to managing employer liability when it comes to fleets. First, what are the legal theories that come into play when an employee is involved in an accident?

The two main legal points of concern are respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) and negligent entrustment. Respondeat superior is a legal concept that means an employer can be held responsible for an employee’s actions even if the employer isn’t personally responsible.

Negligent entrustment is focused on any carelessness on the part of the employer that could be viewed as contributing to an accident. While specific laws vary from state to state (and we recommend you seek legal assistance for specific advice) these two points of law are the main focus of a fleet manager’s liability.

How can fleet managers show they’re not negligent?

When a lawsuit is filed, evidence needs to be shown that an employer hasn’t been negligent in its operations. There are several ways fleet managers can demonstrate they have done everything they can to minimize or eliminate any negligence.

  • Driver Safety Program — Evidence of a driver safety program are important to show a company’s commitment to promoting safe driving. The program needs to be more than just a company driving policy that sits on a shelf somewhere. Regular training sessions, driver performance reviews and strict enforcement of exceptions send a strong signal that as a company, you take safe driving seriously and follow through on coaching your employees. Telematics can be used to keep an automated record of driver incidents such as speeding, hard braking, acceleration, swerving, or HOS violations, and also allow fleet managers to provide detailed, relevant coaching for drivers.
    • Preventative Vehicle Maintenance — Fleet safety also involves keeping up with vehicle maintenance and making sure there are no faults that could lead to an accident. Sometimes it’s
      not enough to simply have an arbitrary maintenance visit scheduled every three or 6 months. Telogis Fleet telematics can be used to automate vehicle maintenance, basing vehicle
      servicing on actual mileage as well as internal engine diagnostics such as coolant temperature or deteriorating fuel economy.

A strong company culture of both driver and vehicle safety will do a lot to reduce a fleet manager’s concerns over liability and minimize the chances of a work vehicle or employee being involved in an accident in the first place.

Back it all up with good record-keeping

Now that you have implemented a good safety program, make sure you keep accurate records to back up your initiatives. These records are worth their weight in gold if you ever face a lawsuit, and can help save thousands of dollars in legal costs. Being able to clearly demonstrate a safe working environment, driver history and company safety programs can mean negligence lawsuits are often dismissed early.

Telogis Fleet keeps an accurate history of driver performance, activity and vehicle maintenance. Along with extensive reports, it also provides a valuable resource when it comes to proving a company’s commitment to safe driving, and protection against costly lawsuits.