The Background Check Dilemma in a Shrinking Labor Pool
A Nassau County, Florida, jury found two trucking companies responsible for a crash that killed a college student and ordered them to pay $1 billion in damages.
University of North Florida student Connor Dzion, 18, was stopped on Interstate 95 on Labor Day weekend in 2017 due to a semi-truck crash ahead of him. While he waited for the interstate to clear, a tractor-trailer operator failed to stop and drove into a line of vehicles, including Dzion's. The college student was killed in the crash and 13 others were injured.
Dzion's parents filed suit against AJD Business Services, the semi-truck's company, and Kahkashan Carrier of Canada, the tractor-trailer's company, saying the crash that killed their son was the result of distracted driving and illegal trucking practices.
Curry Pajcic, a civil attorney with Pajcic & Pajcic, represented Dzion's parents in court. According to News4Jax, the semi-truck driver exceeded the number of hours he was legally allowed to be operating while in route from New York to Miami and was also driving without a commercial driver's license. Pajcic also said the driver was distracted by his cell phone when he crashed, which caused the traffic build-up on the interstate.
As Dzion sat in the traffic backup, Pajcic said, the tractor-trailer driver had his cruise control set at 70 mph and failed to stop, ultimately killing Dzion.
"Never hit his brakes until one second before impact," Pajcic said. "He failed to see stopped cars, a parking lot of stopped traffic with blinking lights, flashing lights, emergency vehicles."
The jury agreed with Dzion's parents and handed down a verdict of $100 million for pain and suffering and $900 million in punitive damages, citing AJD Business Services specifically for hiring a dangerous driver.
"The jury agreed the company did little to nothing toward safety and background checks before letting its driver behind the wheel," News4Jax reported. "Both companies remain in business but have not paid out the sums ordered."
Under the doctrine of negligent hiring, an employer is liable for injury that its employees or agents inflict on third parties when the employer knew or should have known of the employee’s potential risk to cause harm or if a reasonable investigation would have discovered the risk. Thus, background checks before placing employees in a position of trust or access to those where injury might arise are essential, according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).
One of the most significant challenges employers are facing today is the disappearing labor pool. Some companies are closing locations due to a lack of employees willing to return to work. Other employers have increased wages with little success to attract more employees.
A March 2021 survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found that 42 percent of owners had job openings they could not fill, a record high. Ninety-one percent of those hiring or trying to hire reported few or no applicants for the positions they were trying to fill, according to CNBC.
Partnering with HR
Employers may be prone to hire the first living, breathing person who applies. As tempting as it may sound, this hiring practice is fraught with danger. Beyond claims of negligent hiring, experienced HR professionals and managers realize that hiring quality personnel through careful screening protocols pays dividends in the long run.
Security can leverage its expertise and partner with HR to review background screening protocols and selection of background screening providers. HR is looking for internal stakeholders as a natural fit to utilize their investigative skills in pre-employment screening. Although a $1 billion verdict certainly gets one’s attention, preventing loss of life and promoting a positive working environment through careful background screening should be our common goal.
Steven C. Millwee, CPP, is the CEO and founder of SecurTest, Inc., a global background screening firm headquartered in Panama City, Florida. Millwee is a noted expert witness on negligent hiring, security, and workplace violence for more than 42 years and is a past president of ASIS International.