Can a Law Firm be Liable for a Lawyer’s Auto Accident While He’s Driving to Work?

by | Nov 25, 2014

The Virginia Supreme Court has announced it will hear arguments on whether a lawyer is on the job, and covered by his firm’s insurance policy, when he’s driving to work and has his cellphone ready for work-related calls.

The facts of the underlying case are simple: the defendant, a partner at a large law firm in Washington, D.C., pulled out from a stop sign onto State Route 7 in Loudon County, into the path of the plaintiff’s vehicle which collided with the Defendant’s car. The plaintiff suffered significant injuries with medical bills exceeding $100,000.Law Firm Auto Accident Liability

The issue now before the Virginia Supreme Court is whether the lawyer was covered not only by his own $100,000 insurance policy but also the law firm’s $1 million policy. The defendant was driving to work at the time of the collision, and the plaintiff contended that the defendant was using his car in the “business and personal affairs” of the law firm at the time of the accident, thereby triggering coverage. At trial, the plaintiff presented evidence that the defendant had an office in his home, used his cellphone in his car for business calls, and used his commuting time to think about work.

The plaintiff’s attorney argued that the attorney was on duty, and covered by the firm’s insurance, because his phone was set up to receive work-related calls while driving. The defendant’s attorney argued that such application of the law would mean that a lawyer is essentially working 24 hours a day because he carries a phone on which he might receive a work-related call or text. There was no evidence that the defendant was using his phone for a work-related call at the time of the collision. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff and that the law firm’s coverage applied, however the judge disagreed and found that the mobile work factors were “merely incidental” to the defendant’s purpose for operating his vehicle – to transport himself from his home to his office.

Generally, an employee’s commute to and from work is not considered to be within the course and scope of employment or covered by the employer’s insurance. How the Virginia Supreme Court ultimately decides whether the law firm’s insurance policy applies could have far reaching consequences beyond just this case. If the Court finds in favor of the plaintiff, it may expand liability to cover almost all employers whose employees drive with a phone set up in their car to take phone calls. And in light of the advancing technology, could quickly become almost any driver on the road.

The Virginia auto accident lawyers at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., have decades of experience representing individuals who have been hurt as a result of careless drivers. We know how important it is to explore all avenues of compensation to ensure our clients are fully compensated for their injuries. If you or someone you know was injured in an auto accident as a result of someone else’s carelessness, give the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. a call for a free consultation.

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