Amazon’s fleet of delivery drivers may be detached from Amazon warehouses, but the company still monitors its drivers; it installed always-on cameras in its delivery trucks and even asked drivers to consent to yawn-detecting AI surveillance. However, it’s that very surveillance system that puts Amazon in the crosshairs of a lawsuit that claims Amazon is at fault for a life-altering car accident.
This Bloomberg report describes the details of the accident, as well as how one lawsuit may change the way legal teams approach similar situations in the future. The accident happened earlier this year, when 24-year-old Ans Rana was riding in the backseat of a Tesla Model S on a bustling Atlanta highway. After the car came to a stop behind a disabled vehicle, an Amazon delivery vehicle slammed into the back of the Tesla, leaving Rana with major brain and spinal-cord injuries.
Rana filed a lawsuit against Amazon in June, claiming that Amazon is responsible for the accident. But as the report notes, Amazon says it can’t be held accountable due to the fact that the delivery driver technically wasn’t an employee of Amazon.
The delivery driver actually worked for Harper Logistics, LLC, one of the many Delivery Service Partners that Amazon uses for shipping. The Delivery Service Partners program was rolled out in 2018, and according to Bloomberg, Amazon’s partners employ over 260,000 drivers globally, some of who claim that their employers tell them to turn off their safety apps to meet quotas.
That’s why Rana’s lawsuit cruxes on Amazon’s algorithms, apps, and devices that Amazon uses to micromanage its workers. The lawyer on Rana’s case, Scott Harrison, aims to prove that Amazon still exerts control over its Delivery Service Partners using technology.
Amazon closely tracks delivery drivers’ every move, the lawsuit states, 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.’
As Bloomberg notes, most commercial vehicle lawsuits like this are typically resolved without much attention. However, Rana’s case is noteworthy due to his legal team’s claims that Amazon’s monitoring systems make the company liable. Rana’s attorney wants to look into exactly how Amazon’s machines control its operations, but doing so would reveal Amazon’s algorithms, which Amazon reportedly argues could be classified as “trade secrets.”
The company designs and assigns routes and determines how many deliveries each driver should be able to accomplish in a 10-hour shift. It monitors each driver’s performance via smartphone app, cameras and other hardware installed in Amazon-branded delivery vans.
The company can tell the delivery partners to take drivers it deems too slow off the road, essentially firing them. Rana’s lawsuit argues that such practices made Amazon negligent in the crash because they ‘forced drivers to rush to the point it was unsafe’ and ‘focused on speed and delivery efficiency without giving due consideration to the safety of the public.’
If Rana’s legal strategy works, this could influence the outcome of a number of lawsuits to come. Bloomberg mentions that Amazon Logistics has been the defendant in 119 vehicle injury lawsuits this year alone, which reportedly quadruples the number of incidents that occurred last year. And with the holiday season coming up, that number may be on the rise.
In February, Bloomberg states that a Texas couple reportedly sued Amazon for $1 million in damages following an alleged crash with a delivery driver — but the case has since been dismissed. Another man in Massachusetts reportedly suffered from brain injuries after a head-on collision with an Amazon delivery driver who allegedly fell asleep at the wheel. Amazon supposedly has yet to respond to that case, which Bloomberg says was filed in September.
Bloomberg’s report is an eye-opening story that’s both heartbreaking and angering, but still provides a small shred of hope that something might change. Most importantly, it sheds light on Amazon’s treatment of delivery drivers, as well as how that may have an impact on everyone else on the road.