ALL THE information that a company gathers following an accident - and dutifully files away - may eventually end up in the hands of a courtroom jury, said Robert Franklin, attorney with Semmes, Bowen & Semmes of Baltimore, Maryland. Similarly, the procedures used in a company's employment process may be reviewed by a jury. Managers should always have those situations in mind when they attach their signature to a report.
Franklin discussed legal issues at the National Tank Truck Carriers Safety Council seminar April 13-15 in St Petersburg, Florida.
Franklin pointed out that many companies investigate an accident, determine whether it was preventable, and then use the data to ensure that a similar incident won't happen again. The procedures are carefully documented. But when that same information is presented to a jury, should the situation end up in court, the jury may interpret that an accident judged preventable by the company is the company's admission of responsibility.
"Do you want to be the safety guy who created that document?" Franklin asked.
Although records must be kept, carriers should carefully decide what must be retained.
He pointed out that because of driver shortages, some companies may be lowering hiring standards in order to keep pace with operation demands. Those actions can come back to haunt the company if the procedures have not followed legal requirements.
"Don't fall into the habit of hiring people without thorough examination," he warned.
Company Representatives Because drivers are representatives of the company, they have an important role in customer service, which alone would be a major consideration for employment. As company employees, their actions are direct reflections of company operations.
"You are responsible for them while they are out there working," Franklin said. "You must be careful in hiring because you can be held negligent in the hiring process."
Franklin also advised the managers to be aware of the multiple laws that can apply to a single situation. Although a company may be protected against some allegations under one law, another one may nullify the protections. He recalled one case in which a driver who suffered from epilepsy denied to the company in the hiring process that he had the disease.
When the company discovered the employee falsified statements about his physical condition, he was fired. The employee sued and, although denied compensation under one law, was awarded $400,000 under another.
"Make the best decision for your company by knowing the fine points of the law," he said. "When making decisions, use people who have legal expertise."
He advised companies to have a comprehensive employee manual, a well-thought-out employee policy, and extensive records of employee discipline.