$54 Million Negligent Hiring Lawsuit Verdict Upheld

Avoiding risky hires takes more than just completing a background check to store in a candidate’s personnel file. It’s also essential to have policies and procedures in place with the help of trusted legal counsel to avoid hiring or retaining candidates that could put your business at risk.

In a recent case, an Illinois state appellate court affirmed a $54 million jury verdict against a trucking company. The case involved the negligent hiring and retention of a truck driver that, while on the job, was involved in a serious car accident that left a plaintiff with severe and permanent injuries.

According to court, the trucker’s driver’s qualification file, which included a background check, revealed that:

    • The trucker had never completed a truck driving course, even though he had a commercial driver’s license.
    • Within three years of his employment application, the trucker had been involved in four accidents, had three moving violations, and had his license suspended twice.
    • Four out of seven previous employers over the last ten years had terminated employment with the trucker.
    • In the seven years before his application, the trucker had been convicted of nine traffic-related offenses and four counts of felony reckless aggravated assault.
  • A safety coordinator testified that, based on the company’s safety standards, the trucker’s felony conviction would have automatically disqualified him from employment with the trucking company. The coordinator’s initial decision to reject this trucker’s application was overruled by a superior who admitted that the trucker was “…a marginal candidate” but that the company was “…forced to accept ‘marginal drivers’ in order to make a profit.”

    Additionally, the trucker did not attend mandatory company safety training, had multiple moving violations, and had his license suspended within the first nine months of his employment. The company still retained the trucker, even though company policy would have revoked his driving privileges because the company “never ran his motor vehicle report or monitored his license…” after hiring.

    This case should serve as a cautionary tale for employers. What are your guidelines for the use of background check information? It would help if you gave serious consideration to working with a trusted legal advisor to develop firm guidelines regarding the hiring and retention of employees and applicants based on your background checks. Maintaining a successful background screening program, with strict and well-identified policies and procedures for recruitment and retention, could help protect your company from negligent hiring claims and may help prevent tragedies like the accident that occurred in this case.

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