Companies are often not liable for negligence of independent contractors
Ho, ho, ho. Tis the season when we get together with our families, go to church, and of course shop. More than ever, that means we buy items online and get them quickly delivered to our door steps.
Amazon hires thousands of delivery drivers under a program it calls Amazon Flex. These people have the flexibility to work seven days a week and as many hours as he or she can handle – even after working all day somewhere else.
But it is Amazon which gets the real advantage of flexibility. The company is able to increase its pool of drivers without paying job benefits, health insurance, and vehicle liability insurance.
How does it do this? Flex drivers are somehow not classified as employees but as independent contractors.
So who is liable when there delivery truck drivers cause a wreck? This issue is winding its way through different courts with predictably conflicting results. The Texas Supreme Court rendered a decision on a related case in 2015.
The problem is that allowing delivery drivers to be classified as independent contractors shifts liability and compensation from the company to the individual who may not even have auto insurance. If he does, you can bet it is the minimum coverage. In Texas, that is only $30,000 per one person injured, $60,000 for everyone injured (excepting the driver) and $25,000 for all vehicle damage (excepting the truck). That’s usually not enough money to pay for everyone’s medical bills, lost wages, and other damages.
This disturbing trend is not limited to Amazon. FedEd, UPS, WalMart and other retailers and delivery services also rely on a fleet of independent contractors to make their deliveries.
Oh, Uber and Lyft do this too, but that’s a separate story that happens frequently in our new “gig economy.”
Crazy delivery deadlines pressure drivers to speed and work too many hours
You still have a few days to finish your holiday shopping. You may be cutting it close but you can still get that package delivered by Christmas day. FedEx and UPS both advertise same day delivery 365 days of the year. Prime Amazon members could order a gift as late as Christmas Eve to beat the holiday deadline.
But is this safe?
The once popular quick pizza delivery trend offers a clue. Those companies compete on how quickly they could get your pizza delivered to your door. Predictably, delivery drivers speeding to meet this ridiculous deadline caused a number of serious injury accidents. Several years ago, a Texas jury awarded $32 million to a family whose parents were killed by a Domino’s delivery driver. However it was reversed on appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
At least this and other mega verdicts convinced most pizza restaurants to end their 30-minute guarantees. (On a side note, I got to meet the brilliant founder of Domino’s, Tom Monaghan, a few years ago and he mentioned how proud he was of that guarantee and the cardboard box that made it possible.)
Package delivery drivers face the same unreasonable pressures. The more packages they deliver, the more money they make.
Since Amazon drivers are not employees, they don’t earn overtime pay for extra hours. Thus the company has no incentive to limit hours and instead benefits from having drivers rush packages to their destinations. Drivers are not required to have commercial licenses and are not subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hours of service rules. There is nothing to stop an ambitious driver from pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion to earn more money.
Filing a lawsuit against a big corporation
Retailer and delivery services typically claim they are not responsible for the actions of independent contractors. In response, a personal injury lawyer does many things including researching insurance coverage, investigating how the crash happened, and filing suit.
The company should be held liable for the driver’s negligence, such as speeding, driving while distracted (looking down at his GPS possibly), driving while tired to make unreasonable delivery deadlines, etc. This is especially important in a severe crash that exceeds the driver’s liability insurance policy limits.
Truck drivers unfortunately cause a lot of wrecks in Fort Worth and Dallas, especially as they are racing around trying to make deliveries by a guaranteed day and time. When this happens, the innocent victim should not be responsible for paying his expenses and damages.
If you have questions or need legal assistance, please contact my office here.