By: Allan M. Siegel
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.
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.