The Sysco Corporation is currently the largest distributor of food service industry products in the world, with twice the market share of its nearest competitor in the U.S. Its trucks can be seen all over the country and beyond, delivering their cargo to restaurants, schools, hospitals, and hotels.
As an employer of thousands of commercial drivers, Sysco is responsible for the safety, not only of those drivers, but of everyone around them. Unfortunately, that’s a responsibility Sysco hasn’t always shown itself equal to.
One Sysco Driver Has Been Charged with Murder
Following one of the more dramatic cases of a Sysco-involved accident, a Sysco driver is currently facing charges for two counts of murder. Local authorities believe the driver was under the influence of alcohol and prescription medication when he ran a red light and crashed into the back of a smaller vehicle, killing its driver and one passenger.
The accident happened in California in February of 2019, and the family of the two victims is now suing Sysco, alleging that the company should have known about the driver’s history of red light violations, as well as speeding and illegal cell phone use.
Assuming the facts of the case are what they appear to be, Sysco is liable for exposing the public to an unsafe driver at the wheel of a massive and potentially highly destructive vehicle. This particular situation is fairly unusual — drunk driving is much less common among truckers than the general population — but sadly, Sysco wrecks in general are not.
This Is Far from the First Blotch on Sysco’s Driving Record
Because Sysco has so many regional divisions, it’s difficult to get statistics for the company as a whole, but wrecks involving Sysco trucks do pop up fairly frequently, each one offering a glimpse of possible underlying issues. Some, like the possible drunk driving case above, are highly publicized, but for each of these, it’s safe to assume there are many others that don’t even make a ripple in the news cycle. For example, one compiler of (rather spartan) Sysco crash data shows nine incidents occurring in 2018 involving the company’s Los Angeles division alone, very few of which received any media coverage.
Even in the mildest of cases, accidents involving Sysco trucks and other big rigs can cause major disruptions on the road because of their size. For example, in March of 2019, a Sysco driver crashed into a low bridge in Iowa, blocking a major avenue. Local police acknowledged that this was not the first time a truck driver had been tripped up by the bridge, in spite of its clearly posted signs. However, they also stated that most similar crashes have involved U-Hauls and other rental trucks, not experienced truckers who are familiar with their vehicles’ dimensions.
One month earlier, another Sysco truck rolled onto its side, causing delays on a highway in Salt Lake City. It’s not clear what caused that wreck, though there was snow on the road that day, which the driver may or may not have been used to navigating.
The Wide Turning Radius of Big Rigs Can Be Especially Hazardous
Of course, Sysco accidents that only delay other vehicles, rather than directly involving them, are the lucky ones. More often, wrecks involve two vehicles or more, and as with any fleet of big rigs, Sysco’s trucks are especially susceptible to collisions during the extra wide turns their size requires.
In Texas in 2011, a Sysco truck taking a wide turn into a parking lot got into an accident with a passenger sedan on its right, rupturing the Sysco truck’s fuel tank and spilling 30-40 gallons of diesel. Thankfully, no one was hurt except for a small child in the car who bumped his nose on the window and was treated on the scene, but the incident was a vivid reminder of just how dangerous these vehicles are. This kind of spill is not uncommon for big rigs with delicate aluminum fuel tanks mounted on either side of their cabs, and a spark is all it would have taken to turn this brief inconvenience into a smoldering tragedy.
In December of 2018, a nearly identical accident occurred in Philadelphia, with a Sysco truck taking a wide turn into a parking lot and running afoul of a car on its right. The fuel tank didn’t rupture in this case; instead, the car became wedged under the Sysco truck’s trailer.
Counting turns onto streets as well as into parking lots, 2018 was a rough year for Sysco in Philadelphia. In February, a Sysco truck turning onto Frankford Ave collided with a bus that was traveling straight, injuring 15 of its passengers.
Although the injuries were widespread in that case, at least none were extremely serious. That’s more than can be said for the crash in Wyoming in 2015, when a Sysco truck took a left turn into the path of a squad car. The Sysco driver was cited by local authorities for failure to yield to oncoming traffic, and the officer in the car was pinned inside it by the crash, suffering spinal injuries. He later filed a suit against Sysco.
Sysco’s Idea of Addressing the Problem Has Arguably Made Things Worse
It’s no surprise that a food distributor as large as Sysco has had its share of mishaps on the road. The question, as ever, is whether the company has taken all reasonable measures to protect the safety of its drivers and those around them.
Sysco has taken measures, to be sure, but the reasonableness of those measures is debatable.
In 2010, Sysco installed a system called DriveCam in its vehicles. A DriveCam setup includes an inward-facing camera that records the driver throughout the workday. When the system detects unusual movement — potentially caused by an impact, a bump in the road, or a sudden deceleration — it saves the footage from immediately before and immediately after the event and forwards it to the driver’s supervisor.
The company that sells DriveCam (now known as Lytx) touts it as a technological wonder, giving companies the power to monitor their drivers for unsafe practices and easily disprove false claims against them when they drive safely. However, in 2017, the Supreme Court of Quebec sided with workers and worker advocate groups who argue that inward-facing cameras create a hostile, “big brother” working environment for drivers.
Truckers rely on their cabs as a home-away-from-home more than most kinds of workers rely on their workplaces, due to their long hours and heavy travel. Sysco employees noted, in relation to the Quebec case, that they often take their breaks and even change clothes in their cabs, and that the cameras sometimes switch on at random without being jostled.
In addition to crossing lines of privacy, the cameras were also found to be a distraction to the drivers, potentially worsening safety instead of improving it. Yet two years after the ruling forced Sysco to remove DriveCam from its Quebec-based vehicles, Sysco drivers in the U.S are still being subjected to this distracting and intimidating surveillance.
Employers Are Responsible for Their Drivers’ Actions
Companies like Sysco do have a responsibility to make sure their workers are behaving safely, to the best of their abilities, which is why technologies like DriveCam can be so tempting. Consider the case of the alleged drunk driver in California, for example. If Sysco knew (or should have known) that the driver could not be trusted behind the wheel of a big rig, then the company had a duty not to put him there. In addition, even if Sysco could not have expected the driver to end up killing two people, the company can still be held liable, simply because the unsafe driver was acting on its behalf.
DriveCam is marketed to prevent exactly this sort of incident. It’s designed to alert management to willfully unsafe driving habits, like drunkenness and handheld device use, before they have the chance to cost lives and, from Sysco’s perspective, money. It’s worth noting, however, that although DriveCam had been standard in U.S Sysco vehicles for years at the time of the crash, the system failed to prevent those two deaths.
Perhaps, if technology like DriveCam could be correctly calibrated to capture only essential moments, and if companies like Sysco could find the restraint to use it only for curbing illegal infractions, then it might serve some purpose in improving road safety. However, Sysco instead seems to be using DriveCam primarily to make its drivers’ jobs more miserable, unhealthy, and unsafe.
Safety Violations Are Often Tied to Worker Mistreatment
While reckless drivers make for snappier headlines, the far more pervasive causes of trucking accidents continue to be fatigue, haste, and other symptoms of worker abuse, rather than willful irresponsibility on the part of the drivers themselves.
Multiple Sysco drivers have reported that one of their primary fears while working under DriveCam surveillance is being caught and fired for drinking water. That’s right; in their zeal to make sure their drivers’ attention to the road is beyond reproach, Sysco forbids its employees to eat or drink anything, including water, even during long, hot stretches of driving.
This is in spite of the fact that dehydration can severely impair cognitive function. In fact, dehydration has been shown to make drivers just as unsafe as a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, especially on the long, monotonous stretches of road that make up a large portion of many truckers’ routes. Dehydration has even been declared the cause of at least one non-Sysco accident as recently as September of 2019.
While it could be argued that Sysco’s water rule is simply a misguided bit of overcautiousness, the company has a history of making its drivers unsafe in other ways was well. In August of 2013, an investigation by NBC found that Sysco drivers had been made to work more than one 16-hour shift per week — in violation of federal law — over 100 times that month alone.
It’s possible that the month in question was out of the ordinary, but the speculated reason is hardly an excuse. At the time of the study, Sysco had just been exposed for storing perishable food items in unrefrigerated sheds. In response, it had changed its trucking patterns to eliminate the use of the sheds. Needless to say, just like improperly stored perishables, sleep-deprived drivers pose an unacceptable danger to the public’s health and safety, one that Sysco had a duty to prevent.
The Stoddard Firm Holds Corporations Accountable for Endangering the Public
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one due to an accident involving a Sysco vehicle, the Stoddard Firm can help you get the compensation you deserve. Our experts are passionate and knowledgeable about corporate responsibility and can explain in court what duty Sysco had to ensure your safety, and exactly how it failed to do so. We’ll make sure the full details of your case are known, along with all past incidents that should have served as warnings and learning experiences for the company before now.
Immediately after an accident, the important thing is to seek all necessary medical attention, preserve any evidence, and avoid provocation or persuasion by Sysco or its insurance representatives. You may be offered an unfairly small settlement, blamed for the accident, or encouraged to assign blame to something other than Sysco. Engaging directly with these representatives is risky, as one offhand comment can cause permanent damage to your case. That’s why it’s critical to reach out to a professional like those at The Stoddard Firm as soon as possible.
Whenever you’re ready, we’ll be happy to provide you with a free consultation to discuss the details of your case. Just reach out through our online chat function, or give us a call at 678-RESULT today!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do I have to go to court?
Not necessarily. Many wrongful death and personal injury cases are settled before they go to court. However, it is our experience that the most successful cases are built as if they are going to court. Our firm prepares every case to go all the way to trial, even if it is ultimately resolved before the trial starts.
Why is an attorney important in a personal injury case?
Personal injury law can be complex, and filing a successful claim can require a great deal of time, effort and experience. A lawsuit often involves several other parties, including defendants, insurance companies and other attorneys. There are also many procedural rules that must be followed. Having experienced, skilled legal representation maximizes your chances of success.
How do I pick the right attorney?
You’ll want to look for several qualities when choosing who will represent you. Your attorney should meet with you instead of sending an investigator, and he/she should be available throughout the process instead of having you consistently talk to a legal assistant. Your attorney should have a low number of cases so he/she can devote significant time to you and your case. Your attorney should have experience handling cases with facts similar to yours, and your attorney should have a proven track record with similar claims. Your attorney should also be able to devote significant money to your case so that he/she can hire experts, travel the country finding witnesses, and depose whomever is necessary to achieve justice. It’s also important to make sure your attorney is the right fit on a personal level, which is why you should take advantage of a free consultation.
How much time do I have to file a lawsuit?
There is a time limit on how long a person has after an injury to begin a lawsuit. This window is called a statute of limitations. For most personal injury cases in Georgia, the statute of limitations is two years from the time the injury was suffered. However, there are exceptions and subtleties that might change the amount of time you are afforded. Sometimes the period can be as short as 6 months, and other times it can be much longer than two years. Determining the statute of limitations requires a detailed analysis of the facts of your case.
What do I need to bring with me to the consultation?
For your free consultation, bring all relevant documents that you’ve collected regarding your case. If there are police reports, bills or correspondence from insurance companies, you’ll want to bring those items to the consultation so an attorney can learn as much about your case as possible.
How can a lawyer help me?
If you have been involved in an accident, you should explore every option available for making yourself whole again. It is your right to seek financial compensation for your injuries and damages. Lawyers are trained professionals who know what questions to ask, what details are important, how to identify every responsible party, how to handle insurance companies, and how to prepare a case for trial.
Do I still have a claim if the accident was partly my fault?
Believing that you shoulder some of the responsibility for an accident does not mean it is true. There are many factors involved in an accident, some of which may be unknown to you. If it turns out that you are partly to blame, this does not necessarily bar you from recovery. Laws about fault are different from state to state, which is another good reason to have a lawyer evaluate your claim.
What do I do about the insurance companies?
Prompt notice of an accident is required by most insurers or coverage under an uninsured / underinsured motorist policy may be denied, but this rule typically applies ONLY to your insurer – not the insurer of the striking driver. Further, while you may be required to cooperate you’re your uninsured / underinsured motorist carrier, you are under no obligation to cooperate with the insurance companies providing coverage for the other drivers/parties involved, and in fact, you should refuse to speak with them until you have a chance to consult an attorney. Insurance adjusters are out to protect the bottom line of the insurance company; they almost never have your interest at heart. As a result, its is preferable to communicate with such insurers, if at all, through your lawyer.
Will my claim be settled or will I have to go to court?
The answer really depends on how willing the other side is to legitimately compensate you for your injuries and losses. Settlement is possible once a fair value offer is made, and settlement is the client’s decision. That said, at The Stoddard Firm, we approach each case as if we are going to trial.