The rise of Amazon has changed shopping, and shipping, as we know them. Americans increasingly have their retail purchases delivered to their homes and businesses instead of picking them up from brick-and-mortar stores, and Amazon currently controls nearly half of all of these online sales.
In its effort to gain and maintain this staggering share of U.S commerce, Amazon has promised consumers ever-faster shipping and redesigned its shipping network to fulfill these promises. Unfortunately, because this side of Amazon’s process is usually invisible to the consumer, the company has been able to advance its shipping advantage in some very ugly ways. If you or someone you love has been a casualty of Amazon’s high-speed shipping network, The Stoddard Firm can help.
The Delivery End of Amazon’s Business Model Is Largely Constructed from Loopholes
Every company that puts vehicles on the road has a duty to prioritize road safety, and many don’t fulfill this duty. For those that primarily use semi-trailers to transport large quantities of goods, the problems tend to look much the same from one company to another. Amazon doesn’t operate like other companies, however, so the threats it poses to public safety are consequently unique.
Amazon’s delivery system is made up in part by small, local subcontractors. A 2019 investigation by ProPublica estimates that these contractors account for about 23% of Amazon home deliveries, a percentage that is likely to continue rising. Contracting with local small businesses sounds like a positive thing, but in Amazon’s case, it gives this massive corporation an artificial layer of insulation against vital accountability and regulation.
When Amazon provides delivery vehicles to its contractors, they fall just under the weight limit that would trigger regulation by the Department of Transportation, skirting the edges of legality just as the rest of their contractor system does. When contractors provide their own vehicles, Amazon has maintained their anonymity by suing against signage requirements that would identify such delivery vehicles as being affiliated with Amazon.
Meanwhile, these Amazon contractors have been involved in at least 60 accidents and 10 deaths since 2015, per ProPublica’s findings, and likely many more that were never even identified as Amazon-related.
Amazon Acts Like an Employer, but Refuses the Responsibilities of One
Under many circumstances, it’s reasonable to argue that one company isn’t responsible for what another company does, even if they’ve had regular business transactions with each other. For example, if toxic mold outbreak happens in an office, the company that controls that office is liable for the injuries to its employees. However, if that company manufactures, say, ballpoint pens, other companies generally won’t share liability for those injuries just because they’ve purchased the negligent company’s pens for their own offices.
This is the same logic Amazon uses to avoid responsibility for the deaths and injuries its contracted drivers cause, but the validity of the argument depends on how much power a company has over the acts of negligence in question. In the pen manufacturer example, the pen buyers don’t have access to the manufacturer’s inner workings. They don’t have the option of inspecting the manufacturer’s premises, and even if they did become aware of an issue and cut ties with the negligent manufacturer, the loss of one buyer among many probably wouldn’t change much about how the pen manufacturer does business or protects its employees.
For these small shipping contractors, on the other hand, Amazon is often the sole or main client, meaning Amazon has total control over whether the contractor thrives or fails. In a set of interviews with Business Insider, former contractor employees describe Amazon having direct control over the minutiae of their daily operations as well, tracking them through their package scanners and reporting delays to their supervisors. Court testimony from past disputes even suggests that Amazon has used its power to dictate hiring and firing decisions for its contractors.
This is exactly the kind of power an employer wields over employees, and it’s that power that makes an employer responsible for the results of those employees’ actions. Yet Amazon staunchly refuses to recognize this duty.
Even Amazon’s Own Executives Aren’t Safe from Its Road Safety Inadequacies
Back in 2013, Amazon executive Joy Covey was killed while out riding her bicycle, when a vehicle made an illegal left turn in front of her. She was visibly mourned throughout the company, but it wasn’t until ProPublica’s investigation in 2019 that the cause of her death was revealed to the public. The vehicle that struck her belonged to an Amazon contractor and was carrying Amazon packages at the time of the accident.
Even this high-profile loss seems not to have served as any kind of wakeup call to the company. Amazon’s use of contractors has only expanded since, with minimal safety regulations and high pressure for speed. Amazon also has not fully adopted the industry best practice of charting routes to avoid left turns, like the one that killed Covey. ProPublica calculates that, of the known Amazon-related driving fatalities since 2015, half of them involved left turns. For safety as well as efficiency, UPS has been avoiding left turns since the ’70s, but one of Amazon’s two tracking systems still includes them when they aren’t necessary.
Drivers in Amazon’s Network Have Reported Shocking Abuses
Substandard working conditions for commercial drivers are always a public health hazard, because exhaustion, stress, and pressure to hurry will make drivers less attentive and more likely to make tragic mistakes. This issue can be observed in the operations of most companies that rely on drivers, but the conditions reported by Amazon contracted drivers go far beyond long work days and other common complaints.
Just before Christmas of 2019, an Amazon contracted driver in Indiana pulled out in front of a motorcycle, knocking the driver to the ground and leaving him unconscious. A bystander had to perform CPR until the victim could be airlifted to a Chicago hospital. The subsequent lawsuit against Amazon alleges that the accident was the direct result of Amazon placing unreasonable pressure on its contractors, in some cases demanding that drivers meet quotas of more than one delivery every two minutes for the entirety of each workday.
Contractors interviewed by Business Insider corroborate these allegations and more, saying that the demands Amazon places on them are impossible to meet without working 11- and sometimes 15-hour days, forgoing all meal and rest breaks, urinating in their vehicles, sprinting between doors, consistently speeding, and ignoring stop signs.
In addition to the workload, drivers across multiple Amazon contractors spoke of stolen overtime pay, broken promises of benefits, and a workplace culture of intimidation and retaliation, in which they were threatened or punished with withheld paychecks, harder routes, no routes at all, or being assigned to vehicles with faulty brakes.
One employee reported accidentally slamming his hand in the door of his van, causing it to bleed profusely and show signs of exposed bone, and being ordered to complete his route without treatment. When he instead returned to dispatch, he says he was met with mockery, suggestions that he should have asked a customer for a Band-Aid, and warnings that “Amazon is watching you.”
If this is the regard Amazon shows for its own injured drivers, it’s unlikely the safety of the general public features among their concerns at all.
Oversight by Amazon Has Not Mitigated Corruption or Incompetence at the Contractor Level
While Amazon’s direct influence on its drivers’ safety standards cannot be reasonably ignored, it’s also true that some of its sub-contractors go above and beyond when it comes to worker abuses and irresponsible business practices. In spite of Amazon’s claims that it regularly audits its contractors’ operations, these kinds of problems don’t seem to concern the ecommerce behemoth.
In an investigation of Amazon contractor operations by BuzzFeed News, the criminal and civil accusations against contractor executives ranged from fraud to cocaine addiction to gambling binges with embezzled money. One manager allegedly left over a hundred drivers without pay and then told a dispatcher to “find a better lie to tell them” when they stormed the office demanding answers. Another allegedly ordered a driver to flee the scene of an accident where the driver had killed a dog. None of this apparently prompted Amazon to intervene or take their business elsewhere.
Nor has Amazon set forth any helpful standards for the recruitment or training of the drivers themselves, in spite of its willingness to use unemployment as a perpetual threat. Unlike traditional carriers like UPS and FedEx, which conduct extensive safety training and background checks, some Amazon contractors only require a standard, non-commercial driver’s license and insurance — even though personal insurance often won’t be honored if the policy holder was driving professionally at the time of an accident.
In at least one case uncovered by BuzzFeed News, an Amazon contracted driver who ran a red light and struck a motorcyclist had previously pled guilty to multiple driving infractions: once to running a stop sign, twice to driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit.
Driver abuse is a major contributing factor in commercial vehicle accidents, but employing drivers who can’t be trusted behind the wheel at all is another major safety failing.
Amazon Has Fought Hard Against Improved Conditions for Drivers
As apathetic as Amazon has been toward its contractors’ misdeeds, it has reacted swiftly and harshly to any attempt by drivers or small business owners to stand up for their rights.
In Michigan in 2017, the employees of one Amazon contractor location voted to unionize. According to the location’s union shop steward, the contractor shut down the unionized location within a matter of a few months. Shortly afterward, Amazon held a meeting in a Chicago hotel, inviting the upper management of its delivery contractors. In summing up the meeting’s content, one participant said that Amazon was teaching managers how to prevent their employees from organizing, and warning them that Amazon would not work with unionized contractors.
The same BuzzFeed investigation identified at least two entrepreneurs who said they’d started off thrilled to receive business from Amazon, but who believe they ended up drastically suffering for it financially. One business owner believes he was stripped of all Amazon routes in retaliation for even mentioning Amazon’s past-due balance with his company. Another business owner has declared bankruptcy, stating in her documentation that Amazon failed to pay over $1 million in invoices. She lost her business, after losing her savings and her mother’s retirement fund in her attempts to keep it afloat. In the ensuing legal struggle, Amazon was ordered to pay back wages to her unpaid employees. In response, Amazon sued the business owner for $300,000 for breaching the stipulation in her contract that she hold them harmless in case of any third-party lawsuits.
In essence, Amazon sued a business owner for failing to protect them from having to pay for the work of the drivers they’d profited off of.
The Stoddard Firm Will Not Be Intimidated by Amazon’s History
Amazon has gone to great lengths to avoid accountability for its dangerous policies. Some survivors of Amazon-related accidents have not known whose products the at-fault driver was carrying, and others have been shocked and disappointed to see Amazon avoid liability for their injuries in court.
The Stoddard Firm’s passion and specialty is holding large, wealthy, powerful corporations responsible for the harm they cause, and securing compensation for their victims. If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one to an Amazon delivery driver, whether or not the vehicle was labeled or officially owned by Amazon, we’re here to help you fight back. We have the experience to prove in court what the accident has cost you, what should have been done to prevent it, and who sacrificed your safety for their bottom line.
To talk to a lawyer immediately about the details of your accident involving a commercial vehicle and what we can do to help, give us a call at 678-RESULT or reach out through our online chat function.
Tell us about your concern and request a free, no obligation, confidential legal consultation.
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