Duty of Care
May 25, 2021
Helping Employees Understand Duty of Care
This article is about an important standard that our NEMT drivers and companies are held to. When we take on the job of transporting passengers, we have an obligation to provide a Duty of Care towards the passengers. Duty of Care is a term that applies to our employees and how we provide service to our passengers. In the NEMT world, providing care towards our passengers is one of the predominant, foundational, responsibilities that a driver can have. How we care for the passengers can be the difference in how our business grows or declines.
What Does Duty of Care Mean?
So, what does this term mean? The law dictionary provides this definition:
“Duty of Care is a requirement that a person act towards others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would use. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent, and any damages resulting may be claimed in a lawsuit for negligence”. In tort law, which is defined as a civil wrong or wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental from which injury occurs to another.
These two definitions go hand in hand. Duty of Care is a legal obligation that is imposed on an individual, in the NEMT world, the driver and company, which requires them to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others. An example of requirements of Duty of Care may be the securement of a mobility device, driving defensively, failure to maintain safe following distance, etc. Any failure in any one of these areas listed can constitute a failure of Duty of Care towards our passengers.
In my example of how it is worded in legal action, Duty of Care is usually used by Plaintiff Attorney when a Notice of Complaint is filed against your company.
When you received a complaint or legal notice from an attorney, it usually starts out with the wording: Joe’s Transportation Company failed to provide a duty of care towards the plaintiff, Mrs. Peters who was a passenger on your vehicle driven by your employee Bob Smith on 5/1/2020. Then the plaintiff attorney then will list a series of wrong doings which they believe has occurred and led to the failure of your company not being able to provide Duty of Care towards your passenger and their client.
Example of a Scenario in Violation of Duty of Care
In this example, I will give you the idea of a violation of Duty of Care:
Our driving training program teaches our drivers to establish a 4-second following distance. This will ensure adequate stopping distance in the event of the vehicle in front of the company van stops suddenly. In inclement weather, we teach the employees to add 2 seconds to the 4 seconds for a total of 6 seconds of following distance.
In this scenario, our driver has struck the vehicle in front of them in the rear. The passenger in the rear of the vehicle has died due to injuries sustained during the collision. Legal action has taken place, the company has received a Notice of Complaint. It was determined during the accident investigation that the company vehicle was not practicing proper following distance procedures as outlined by our own training policies. The first line in the complaint alleges that our driver “failed to practice Duty of Care while driving en route and therefore cause a fatality”
How Does Duty of Care Effect My Company and What Departments can be Involved?
Duty of Care can affect your company in many ways starting with passenger complaints through legal action against your company. Complaints to your company about driver actions, operational issues, driver training, vehicle safety, vehicle maintenance, dispatch operation are all the precursors to problems that need to be addressed. Ignoring complaints, or not resolving complaints, tend to grow with intensity, or worse yet, result in an accident or incident that could have been prevented. We want to make sure, especially in our NEMT world, that we have our “NORMS” which contain our policies, programs, and procedures in place when we operate our company.
If you remember from previous articles, I described the setting of the “NORMS” of operation and the Three “P”s and how important they were. The Three “P”s will help you build your foundational training programs and allow you to operate efficiently, safely, and provide good quality customer service. This is important, as many of our NEMT companies are small operators, and having good foundational training, or the “NORMS” will help you train drivers to proficiency so they don’t have intentional or accidental incidents or accidents in which injury occurs, and possible legal action would take place.
When you think about this area of concern, there are many departments that affect “Duty of Care” concerns. These departments besides the drivers can be the Safety and Training department, Supervisors, Dispatch, Reservations, Customer Service, and the Maintenance department.
A Word About Mistakes
We are all human and mistakes can happen. Mistakes can also lead to loss of business, and the terminations of employees that are involved. There are no real positives coming from mistakes that are made. It is important that when you receive a complaint or discover a mistake made, that it is investigated completely and resolved. Understanding why the complaint or mistake occurred, how to prevent it from occurring again, will help you with retraining employees so that mistakes can be eliminated from happening. In the NEMT world, mistakes in our operations can be costly. They result in poor service and can lead to accidents, injuries, fatalities, and litigation.
Management and Leadership seem like the same thing, but there are differences between the two:
- Management means that managers manage things and that means they control, direct, and count.
- Leadership means that leaders lead people and that means they inspire other employees to pursue our shared goals for the company and influence the way employees to behave.
Duty of Care encompasses leaders who set the example, lead our employees to do it right, the first time and every time. This will help us reach our goals by avoiding improper actions while our NEMT passengers and the public have our trust.
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