In a recent article from the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, Steve Holland states:
“When auto liability lawsuits arise from business vehicle operations (such as in valet services), the plaintiff’s case discovery process will almost certainly obtain information about the driver’s motor vehicle record.
“If a driver has a history of citations for traffic violations, reckless driving or driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), the plaintiff’s attorney will attempt to paint a picture of negligence by the employer for allowing such a reckless individual to drive for their company.
“If the employer had not checked the MVR at all, then the attorney can bolster their negligence argument by suggesting that the employer didn’t care enough about public safety to even bother checking.”
For these reasons regular evaluation of MVR reports is a standard component in fleet (valet) safety programs. For an MVR review to be successful, employers must consider exactly which records will be evaluated, and how they will guide employment and driving assignment decisions.
For example, will a citation for running a stop sign carry the same weight as a conviction for DUI? When evaluating a typical 36-month driving history, will it make a difference to the employer if citations were received last month or two years ago?
Three legal concepts come into play in assessing the risk of liability involved with providing a vehicle to an employee:
– Negligent Entrustment. This holds that an employer can be held liable for damages if a person to whom the employer provided a “dangerous instrumentality” (i.e., a vehicle) causes damage or injury to another party with that instrument.
Thus, anyone who, while driving a vehicle, causes damages or injures to a third party or parties exposes the employer (provider) of the vehicle to risk of liability under negligent entrustment law.
Generally, the employer is held liable if the employer knew, or could have easily uncovered, that the person had a propensity to be dangerous via the possession or use of the vehicle.
– Negligent Hiring. This is identical to negligent entrustment, except for two key aspects. First, the person must be an employee; negligent entrustment risk covers anyone to whom the employer provides the vehicle. Second, the employer need not provide any “dangerous instrumentality”; the actions of the employee in any circumstance suffice. Indeed, when a company vehicle driver (employee) has an accident, the company is exposed to the risk of liability under both negligent hiring and negligent entrustment.
– Vicarious Liability. Under this legal concept, the employer can be held liable for damages caused by an employee even if the employer has done nothing wrong – i.e., the company performed the requisite background and driver checks and found no evidence of a propensity for dangerous behavior.
Clearly, the scope of risk a company faces when providing a vehicle to an employee is substantial, and assessing those risks must be a critical process in the hiring and continued monitoring of fleet drivers. Negligent entrustment usually poses the greatest risk of monetary damages in the form of punitive damages, because it requires first, that the company provides the “dangerous instrumentality,” and second, that the company is negligent in conducting a diligent search for a record that would have revealed a driver at risk of causing an accident.
MVRs are available from every state and come in several different formats. Safety risk assessments should be initiated before a driver is hired. An MVR review should be part of any pre-employment screening and continue on a regular schedule (quarterly, semiannually or annually) for as long as the driver is employed.
Program development should include all stakeholders and responsible parties, and, when implemented, must be applied consistently and without exception. Doing so can help a company avoid substantial cost, both in liability and in vehicle costs, and maintain its reputation in the industry and the community.
A portion of the above article is taken from a feature in a 2009 edition of “Business Fleet/Work Truck.”
Kathy Phillips, CIC, CPP, is First Vice President of Alliant Insurance Services. She can be reached at

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