Question: Does Allowing An Employee To Work Lots Of Hours Expose The Employer To Liability When That Employee Falls Asleep While Driving Home From Work During Their Commute?
Answer: No, Since The Imposition Of Such A Duty To Monitor Worker’s Fatigue Would Be Unworkable.
At approximately 6:10 a.m. on January 21, 2011, Dana Faught, a longtime U.S. Steel employee, drove his personal vehicle in Gary, Indiana, when he crossed the center line and collided head on with Miriam Rodriguez. Faught has no memory of the collision and assumes that he fell asleep just before impact. Miriam sustained severe, permanent injuries. When the collision occurred, Faught was traveling home from a shift at U.S. Steel, where he had worked as a labor team leader. Although Faught was actually scheduled to work 8-hour day shifts at U.S. Steel, his supervisor, allowed Faught to make his own hours. Before the collision, Faught had worked an approximately 11-hour shift, which began at 7:04 p.m. on January 20 and ended at 5:51 a.m. on January 21. These hours were typical for Faught, as he had worked similar hours, 5 to 6 days per week, for about 3 years. Faught, did not arbitrarily choose the hours he worked. He opted to work nights because the labor team that he oversaw could accomplish more at night than during the day, when the mill was more crowded. Further, U.S. Steel did not employ a specific, designated team to complete labor work. Instead, the labor team was staffed entirely by employees who volunteered for overtime after they had completed their scheduled shifts. More labor work was available than volunteers, and Faught worked the hours necessary to complete the required tasks. Indeed, U.S. Steel also employed another labor team leader, and she worked the same hours as Faught. Other than periodic cuts to overtime, U.S. Steel did not have a policy that limited employee hours or regulated how many consecutive days an employee could work. U.S. Steel also did not offer training on employee fatigue. Alfredo filed a negligence suit against Faught and U.S. Steel which alleged that it had acted negligently when it allowed and/or permitted … Faught … to drive an automobile on his commute” after it permitted Faught to work long and excessive hours on consecutive days when it knew or should have known that such schedule would make Faught overly tired and unable to safely drive home without becoming drowsy and, therefore, a hazard to other motorists on his route home. U.S. Steel moved for summary judgment arguing that it did not owe Miriam a duty, but, even if it did, it neither breached that duty nor was the proximate cause of Miriam’s injuries. The trial court entered a general order granting summary judgment in favor of U.S. Steel and against Alfredo. This appeal ensued.
On appeal, Alfredo contends that U.S. Steel owed third-party motorists, and, therefore, Miriam, a duty when it permitted Faught to work long hours for several consecutive days without any policy or training to combat employee fatigue. In reviewing this case, the Court of Appeals noted that a duty of reasonable care is not, of course, owed to the world at large, but arises out of the relationship between the parties. This inquiry focuses on whether or not the defendant … owes a duty to the particular plaintiff. Miriam and U.S. Steel had no direct relationship. Here, Faught, not U.S. Steel, was in the best position to prevent the injury to Miriam. He controlled his sleep schedule and the time of day he worked, and he was able to take breaks from his work if and when he became tired. Further, better than anyone else, Faught would know whether he felt fatigued. Moreover, although the cost of injuries caused by fatigued driving is surely great, we believe a greater cost would follow the imposition of a duty on an employer to monitor employees for fatigue. Such an approach is not easily workable, if at all. It is not clear how an employer could monitor employee fatigue, much less how an employer could determine whether such fatigue was job related or, for that matter, whether the fatigue is sufficient to intervene and attempt to prevent the employee from leaving the employer’s premises, even if the employer had the authority to do so. And such a duty would likely lead to ad hoc, industry-specific decisions by our courts that set bright line caps on the number of hours an employee is allowed to work, but this is a task best left to employers or to the legislature. Such a duty would place a substantial burden on how employers manage their businesses and assign work to their employees. The Court Of Appeals found that U.S. Steel did not owe Miriam a duty of reasonable care. While, in general terms, her injury was reasonably foreseeable, she had no relationship with U.S. Steel, and public policy strongly counsels against the imposition of a duty on employers to monitor worker fatigue. In sum, we do not believe reasonable persons would recognize such a duty and agree that it exists. Absent such a duty, U.S. Steel is entitled to summary judgment, and we affirm the trial court’s entry of summary judgment. 24 N.E.3d 474