US Foods is a food distribution company that delivers groceries to food service establishments all over the country. Because they don’t sell directly to end consumers, many Americans don’t know much about US Foods, but their trucks are a common sight on the highway, adorned with a simple red-and-green logo and images of happy chefs at work.
Unfortunately, those happy chefs may be the last thing some motorists and pedestrians ever see. As a major owner of big rigs and employer of truckers, US Foods is obligated to maximize road safety for both their own workers and everyone around them. When they fail in that obligation, they are morally and financially responsible for the damage to people’s lives.
One US Foods Truck Accident Now Has a Traffic Law Named After It
There’s one US Foods accident in particular that prompted new legislation in Colorado, as well as a protracted criminal trial. The day after Thanksgiving in 2016, a Colorado State Trooper named Cody Donahue was investigating a crash site at the side of a Colorado freeway, when a US Foods truck allegedly crossed the solid white line onto the shoulder and fatally struck him. Further investigation indicates that the officer’s body made contact with the truck at three different points in rapid succession, and that it was the impact of the trailer’s door lock against his head that caused his death.
The US Foods driver was charged with criminal negligence, but two mistrials were declared in the course of his prosecution, both of them due to the sudden introduction of new evidence that had not been disclosed to the defense. The second time this happened, it was the deputy who transported the truck away from the scene of the accident who provided a last-minute revelation: he had noticed that the truck was badly misaligned and pulling to the right.
After a third trial, a judge dismissed the felony charge of criminal negligence, leaving only “careless driving resulting in death” and “careless passing of an emergency vehicle causing death” misdemeanors.
Meanwhile, while the case was still ongoing in 2017, the Colorado Senate passed its “Move Over for Cody” bill, named in the victim’s honor, increasing penalties for drivers who fail to move over a lane and slow down for stopped emergency vehicles.
Although these increased penalties were inspired by Trooper Cody Donahue’s death, it’s important to note that a “move over” law was already in place in Colorado, as they are in most states, including here in Georgia. Donahue’s patrol car was pulled over to the side of the highway with its lights flashing at the time of the accident. This means that the US Foods driver would have been required under the law to move one lane to the left, or, if road circumstances made this impossible, to slow down and be prepared to stop.
The driver failed to do this, and whether it was due to indifference, exhaustion, poor training, or an improperly maintained company vehicle, US Foods can be held responsible for the consequences of putting this truck and this individual on the road together in a state that made them a lethal danger.
US Foods Crashes Have Damaged Infrastructure and Businesses
The best big rig accidents, if there can be such a thing, are single-vehicle wrecks. The truckers themselves are fairly well protected and usually walk away relatively unscathed, whereas pedestrians and the occupants of smaller vehicles have a much lower chance of surviving when they find themselves involved in collisions with these massive trucks.
However, even single-vehicle big rig accidents have a cost, a cost that affects more than just the truckers and the company employing them. In July of 2017, a US Foods truck became entangled in a set of telephone lines in New Mexico and damaged six utility poles, disrupting local phone and internet service and blocking the road with poles and lines.
The same month, in South Carolina, a US Foods truck left the road and crashed into a freeway overpass for reasons unknown. Sadly, the driver in this case did not survive, in spite of the sturdiness of his vehicle.
One year later, another US Foods truck crashed into a Subway restaurant in North Carolina. No one was hurt, but it was a close call; there were employees at work inside the restaurant at the time of the accident. Less than a year after that, a US Foods truck towing two trailers at once went out of control on a Florida highway and veered into the nearby trees. This driver survived but had to be taken to a hospital for emergency treatment, and the cleanup process disrupted traffic for hours on a Tuesday morning.
Accidents with US Foods Trucks Cost Lives
When truckers are killed or injured, it’s most commonly because of poor working conditions, the mistakes of other drivers on the road, or both. Regardless of the cause, it’s a tragic event that should always prompt further investigation.
Truckers make up only a minority of the victims of trucking accidents, however. Members of the general public are constantly exposed to the danger of big rig accidents at the hands of companies like US Foods.
This year in Minnesota, a US Foods truck making a right turn collided with a cyclist, crushing the bicycle under its wheel. The cyclist is expected to survive but was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. A couple years previously, in Pennsylvania, a US Foods truck struck a car in the course of a multi-vehicle collision, trapping one man who later died of his injuries. Three other people required hospital treatment, including the driver of the car. Reporters described her condition at the time as “fighting for her life.”
Clearly, Trooper Donahue was not the last person to fall victim to accidents involving US Foods trucks, and there will almost certainly be more to follow.
US Foods’ Relationship with Its Drivers Has Shown Ugly Undertones
Overworking and underpaying truckers is sadly common across the industry and leads to an unnecessary excess of accidents.
In 2016, the same year as the accident that killed Trooper Donahue, US Foods demanded $8 million in concessions from its workers’ union, including average pay cuts of $5.75 per hour, under the threat of closing down a Maryland distribution center. Union leaders alleged, during the rolling strike that followed, that the company had been deliberately trying to make the distribution center fail by shifting jobs to non-union locations.
US Foods’ history of labor relations also contains even more sinister streaks than the usual contentions over money. In 2012, US Foods was ordered to pay $165,000 to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit. The plaintiff, an African-American former employee of a US Foods location in Illinois, reported that he had been fired for failing to stop a Caucasian driver from doing his rounds while drunk. The alleged drunk driver himself was not fired for the infraction, and neither was a safety specialist, also Caucasian, who was aware of his condition at the time.
Three years later in Mississippi, US Foods was sued again for racial discrimination against African-American employees, this time in the form of relegating them to less favorable driving routes and less flexible schedules, and still no larger lesson seems to have been learned. As recently as August of 2019, the company agreed to pay $116,000 in back wages and interest due to gender discrimination in its hiring practices.
Worker mistreatment in all its forms is detrimental to safety. Stressed, exhausted drivers rushing to get their routes done fast enough to keep their jobs and pay their bills are more likely to make mistakes. In a corporate culture where some drivers are kept in this state all the time, while others are allowed to get behind the wheel drunk without consequence, it’s no wonder that accidents happen with sometimes catastrophic results.
Workers and the Public Get Lost in the Shadow of Executive Scandals
Unethical practices aren’t limited to the road and the warehouse. Some of US Foods’ most infamous missteps have happened at its highest levels, dating back at least as far as 2000, when the company, then known as US Foodservice, was bought out by a Dutch supermarket company known as Royal Ahold NV.
Within three years of the takeover, Ahold had to remove US Foods’ preexisting CEO, after the discovery of fraudulent accounting practices, which falsely inflated the company’s earnings statement by $880 million. Four other executives were indicted for falsifying the figures in order to award themselves unearned bonuses, as well as coercing vendors into obstructing the audit process and, in one case, insider trading.
The CEO was sentenced to 6 months’ house arrest, the accountant involved was barred from practicing accounting for 5 years, Ahold paid $100,000 to settle the fraud charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and one of the executives, the apparent orchestrater of the scheme, was sentenced to 7 years in prison.
During the same period in the early 2000s, US Foods was also allegedly defrauding hospitals and other government facilities by using shell companies to inflate prices. Ahold eventually settled the ensuing lawsuit for $297 million, in spite of having sold off the troublesome company in 2007, before the suit was resolved but not before the fraud occurred.
Between the charges, civil suits, management changes, and probable embezzlement, it’s not hard to see how vital, frontline issues like road safety would be denied the necessary attention and investment.
What to Do After an Accident with a US Foods Truck
If you’ve been hit by a US Foods Truck, whether as a pedestrian or a fellow motorist, the procedure starts much the way it would with any other accident. You’ll need to exchange insurance information with the driver, document the damage as best you can, and seek immediate medical attention. Even if you don’t feel severely injured at first, a prompt doctor’s appointment can detect hairline fractures, herniated discs, concussions, and other serious but slow-manifesting symptoms. Early detection of these problems is important both for your physical recovery and for establishing a trail of evidence.
What you say after an accident can also affect your chances of fair compensation. Here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind:
- Do not verbally admit fault or attribute fault to a third party
- Do not make guesses about speed, distance, or other details of the accident
- Make sure to obtain the driver’s professional, rather than personal, insurance information
- Avoid communicating directly with representatives of US Foods or their insurance provider
- Consult with a trustworthy legal expert as soon as possible
The Stoddard Firm has extensive experience holding large corporations like US Foods accountable when they endanger and harm the public, including through unsafe driving. We’ll figure out exactly what caused your accident and exactly how US Foods should have prevented it, and then we’ll present it in terms both judges and juries respect.
For a free consultation with one of our qualified attorneys, reach out through our online chat function, or give us a call at 678-RESULT.
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