Lawsuit Seeks to End Amazon's Avoidance of Liability in Delivery Crashes
Amazon has avoided responsibility for numerous traffic accidents, including fatal ones, involving delivery drivers who the company pressures to meet demanding schedules.
The reason: Amazon doesn't employ the drivers. Third-party "delivery service providers" do.
A recent lawsuit in Georgia, however, seeks to break through that defense and prove that the company's methods are to blame for compelling drivers to work too fast.
The 24-year-old plaintiff, who we will refer to as "A.R.," sustained brain and spinal cord injuries that left him paralyzed after an Amazon delivery truck slammed into the rear of his brother's Tesla, in which he was a back-seat passenger.
Even though Amazon claims it is not responsible for the actions of the driver, A.R. says it is liable because it uses technology that pressures drivers to cut safety corners. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon pressures drivers via text messages if they fall behind the company's "unrealistic" delivery schedule. The Amazon truck that injured A.R. was going over the speed limit, according to the lawsuit.
There have been many such accidents involving Amazon delivery trucks in recent years, and the company escapes responsibility for them as a matter of course, according to a 2019 report by the New York Times and Pro Publica. It found that in the previous 4.5 years, Amazon drivers were involved in dozens of accidents that resulted in serious injuries and 10 fatal accidents.
In apparent response to complaints about driver safety, Amazon began requiring drivers to use an app called Mentor, which monitors driver safety — speeding, braking, making cellphone calls, etc. — and assigns them a score. A bad score could cost them their job.
For drivers and the delivery companies that employ them, however, Mentor posed an impediment for meeting Amazon's demanding delivery schedule. So, as Vice News reported in May, delivery companies were ordering drivers to simply shut it off.
By then, though, Amazon had revealed plans to install always-on, high-tech video cameras in the delivery trucks to monitor driver behavior. The company believes this device should result in safer drivers, but it also creates greater stress.
Even though Amazon points to Mentor and the video camera as safety tools, there's no evidence that the company is relaxing the schedules it expects its drivers to meet.
As The Verge reports, the influence of these surveillance tools is at the heart of the lawsuit by A.R. While most commercial vehicle lawsuits like this one settle without much attention, "[A.R's] case is noteworthy due to his legal team's claims that Amazon's monitoring systems make the company liable," The Verge reported. "A.R.'s attorney wants to look into exactly how Amazon's machines control its operations."
The Verge suggested that if A.R's legal strategy works, it could influence other lawsuits to come.
Bloomberg reports that Amazon has been the defendant in 119 vehicle injury lawsuits this year, four times more than the number from last year.
In one of them, a Massachusetts man sued Amazon after an Amazon driver who fell asleep at the wheel hit the man's vehicle head-on, nearly killing him.
The plaintiff, Joe Graziano, said he suffered a traumatic brain injury. According to his lawsuit, Amazon driver Ibrahim Toure of Rhode Island had delivered 250 packages that day as he tried to keep up with a demanding schedule that did not allow him to take a break.
Officials from Graziano's hometown, Milford, have expressed concern about Amazon drivers since January 2020 when they observed them running red lights, making illegal turns, and looking at their phones while driving.
Graziano's lawyers quoted Milford Board of Selectmen Chairman William Buckley, who said at the time, "Somebody's going to get hurt. I hope I'm wrong, but it's a matter of time."
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