A lawsuit filed in Georgia state court seeks to answer the question of whether or not Amazon is liable for injuries caused by delivery companies it hires as contractors, according to a report from Bloomberg. Ans Rana was in the back seat of his brother’s Tesla when it was hit from behind by a speeding Amazon delivery driver employed by a contractor named Harper Logistics, leaving Rana with life-changing injuries.
The heart of the case is about how much control Amazon exerts over the thousands of contractor companies it uses to deliver its packages every single day. Naturally, Amazon says it’s not liable since the driver was employed by a contractor, but Ans’ attorney, Scott Harrison, argues it is Amazon who is running the show. For example, according to the lawsuit Amazon contractor vehicles are outfitted with a bevy of sensors and cameras to monitor every aspect of the drivers’ experience, including, “backup monitoring, speed, braking, acceleration, cornering, seatbelt usage, phone calls, texting, in-van cameras that use artificial intelligence to detect for yawning, and more.” Amazon also allegedly dictates to the contractors how many packages must be delivered per 10-hour shift, and the suit alleges drivers are monitored in real-time as well. If they fall behind schedule, an Amazon employee will alert the contractor with a text message, encouraging them to “rescue” the driver.
To help decipher exactly how much control Amazon exerts in these situations, Mr. Rana’s legal team wants more information about how Amazon manages its fleets of contractor vehicles. Amazon argues this information is proprietary, and exposure in court would represent a risk to what it deems are protected trade secrets. Still, as Bloomberg notes, a victory against Amazon is far from ensured as these types of cases have gone both ways in the past, and laws vary from state-to-state as well. The suit certainly introduces a lot of interesting questions about where the line exists between contractor and employer liability, however.
Also, this case could have a profound impact on not just current logistics operations for Amazon but future incidents as well. According to Bloomberg, Amazon has been a defendant in 119 motor vehicle injury lawsuits this year alone, in 35 states. An Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg it has invested over $1 billion dollars in training and technology to enhance safety for its delivery drivers, including outfitting more than half its US fleet with video cameras that alert drivers in real-time to enhance safety. The alerts include driving without a seatbelt, distracted driving, signal and stop sign violations, and more.
One interesting note about the case is the Department of Transportation seemingly requires notification for accidents of this nature when the vehicle weighs over 10,000-pounds, which the Amazon vans do not quality for, thus they don’t have to be officially reported. Amazon also outsources a lot of its delivery operations to contractors who lease the vehicles and also have to maintain their own insurance, explicitly for incidents such as this.
On a related note, a law firm in the UK has also filed suit against Amazon in October, arguing that the micro-level control it exerts over its contractors should qualify them as Amazon employees. The same law firm gained notoriety for suing Uber over how it classified its “self-employed” drivers in February of this year.
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