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.
The Stoddard Firm prides itself on holding large corporations accountable any time they place profits above public safety, and Sysco is no exception.
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!
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