Quote from Theodore Roosevelt

Delegation is the magic principle for successful small firms and perhaps best expressed by Teddy Roosevelt:

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Of 6 million annually reported car crashes, half are related to distracted driving, according to the American Automobile Association. The AAA suggests that it’s not the act of holding the device, but rather the discussion that causes accidents.

If you’re distracted by an intense conversation, and you’re using a headset , you could still get into an accident. Sometimes you’re not even seeing what’s in front of you because your mind is somewhere else.

A small but growing number of companies are publishing guidelines for cellphone use inside the office and the car, as some high-profile liability cases catch the eye of corporate America.

“It’s a hot liability topic,” said Kathryn Lusby- Treber, executive director of the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety in Vienna, Va. “The company is certainly at risk. If they have an employee who’s driving for business and they’re in a crash, the employer can be held responsible for the crash.”

Will these guidelines protect the company? Not necessarily.

In October 2004, Cooley Godward of San Francisco settled a $30 million lawsuit in the death of 15- year-old Naeun Yoon, who was struck and killed in 2000 on a busy highway outside Fairfax, Va., by one of its employees – a lawyer accused of making a business call on her cellphone while driving. After serving a year in jail and surrendering her law license, Jane Wagner was ordered to pay $2 million in damages to Yoon’s family by a circuit court jury in Loudoun County, Va. While the firm’s insurance company paid $92,500, according to its attorney, John McGavin of Fairfax, the firm was not held liable.

However, the case of Yoon v. Cooley Godward has broader implications. This decision suggests that employers could be “vicariously liable for the cellphone-induced distracted driving of their employees, even if phone calling is not within the scope of employment,” noted Ross Guberman, an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School who has written about the case.

Perhaps the use of cell phones, Blackberries and other mobile technology should be reexamined to take advantage of their benefits while not exposing our law firms to damages and concomitant loss of reputation.

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