COLLISION BY ALGORITHM: IS AMAZON LIABLE TO A MAN PARALYZED BY VENDOR DRIVER ACCIDENT?
A car stopped in Atlanta traffic was rear-ended by an Amazon delivery van. This delivery van was operated by a company called Harper Logistics LLC. Ans Rana was a passenger in the vehicle that was hit by the delivery van. Rana’s attorney is not only attempting to hold Harper Logistics LLC liable but also trying to hold the e-commerce giant Amazon liable as well.
Rana’s attorney is arguing that Amazon’s algorithms made the delivery van driver rush to deliver the packages timely. And as a result of this rush, Rana’s attorney argues, the delivery driver hit the vehicle Rana was in and Amazon is thereby negligent for this accident as well. More specifically, Rana’s attorney is asserting that Amazon’s algorithms that control time and volume of package deliveries made Amazon, not just Harper Logistics LLC, the “controller” of the delivery driver. This argument attempts to sever the independent contractor relationship and create an employer/employee connection of control between Amazon and Harper Logistics LLC.
Rana was a passenger in the back seat of his brother’s Tesla Model S when they were stopped behind a disabled car on Interstate 76 in Atlanta. Shortly after stopping, an Amazon delivery van slammed into the Tesla from behind. This rear-end collision mangled the back end of the Tesla, causing the driver, Rana and the father that were all in the vehicle to be hospitalized.
Rana suffered spinal cord and life-changing brain injuries. He spent months in the hospital on a ventilator to help him breathe. Slowly, Rana recovered sufficiently to be released from the hospital, but now has to live with his sister. Rana is paralyzed and can only move around in a wheelchair. He is unable to do simple daily tasks like using a fork to feed himself, change channelS using a remote or play video games on a PlayStation. Rana doesn’t have control of his legs or arms. Rana’s dreams of going to medical school to become a doctor may have died in that crash. And according to Rana’s attorney, this crash would not have occurred had Amazon not dictated the time, volume and pace of deliveries that caused the delivery driver to be unsafe and rushed. Rana’s only focus right now is his own recovery of basic motor functions, but Rana’s attorney is focused on making sure Amazon is responsible for Rana’s medical bills and a lifetime of diminished earnings.
Did Amazon build a sufficient enough wall of separation between itself and its contractor -vendors to not have “control” over the contractor-vendors. Control in this case is a legal term that looks at the relationship between the vendor and Amazon.
Rana’s attorney filed a lawsuit in Georgia court asserting that Amazon is responsible for the accident. The core issue in the claim against Amazon is whether the algorithms that the company uses to manage the logistical operations caused the collision. Basically the question becomes: did Amazon’s protocols over its contractor-vendors along with the customer promise of faster deliveries cause this delivery driver to unsafely drive thereby causing the accident that resulted in Rana’s injuries.
Amazon has helped launch many small start up delivery companies to deliver its packages. By doing this, Amazon’s intent was to pass on any driver negligence to these smaller contractor companies.
Rana’s attorney, Scott Harrison, wants to prove that Amazon is actually in control and he plans to do this by focusing on the role that Amazon’s algorithms play in delivery services. According to Rana’s attorney, Amazon controls everything from how many packages each driver should deliver to whether a driver should be hired or fired. If this is true, arguably, Amazon isn’t just a customer of Harper Logistics, LLC it’s an employer instead.
The liability against Harper Logistics, LLC is almost unquestionable in Rana’s accident, but Amazon’s liability isn’t going to be that easy to prove.
According to Rana’s attorney, Amazon tracks everything and monitors the delivery trucks’ every move, 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.”
If a driver falls behind schedule, Rana’s attorney alleges that an Amazon employee (not a Harper Logistics, LLC employee) send messages to Harper Logistics “complaining that a certain driver is ‘behind the rabbit’ and should be ‘rescued’ so that the packages are delivered in compliance with Amazon’s delivery expectations. Rana argues that Amazon’s delivery expectations are “unrealistic and dangerous.”
This case could set precedent for establishing negligence liability via “technological knowledge.” Does Amazon’s ability to know via its technological knowledge of vehicle location, package tracking and deliver expectations give it de facto control over Harper Logistics, LLC, thereby making Amazon liable for the negligence of Harper Logistics, LLC’s drivers?
Amazon’s delivery enterprise is called “Amazon Logistics” and this arm of Amazon has been a defendant in over 100 motor vehicle lawsuits in over 30 states this year so far according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Amazon commenced its Delivery Service Partner program in 2018. This program allows aspiring entrepreneurs to start their own delivery business with as little as $10,000. Amazon started this program to reduce its reliance on UPS and USPS.
Many more lawsuits using this same algorithmic strategy will be filed against Amazon attempting to hold Amazon liable for driver negligence. Driver negligence could include falling asleep at the wheel, speeding through neighborhoods, texting and driving, etc. Is Amazon responsible?
Amazon may have to rethink its Delivery Service Partner Program if more and more of these lawsuits are filed. All it takes is a few huge verdicts to open the floodgates of a method to hold Amazon liable for contractor-driver negligence. If Amazon stops its Delivery Service Partner program, what does that do to the small business owners that rely on that source of business income for their entrepreneurial dreams?
ABOUT THE BLOGGER
ShonSpeaks is the managing member of The Fleming-Bruce Law Firm, P.L.L.C. She also has her own blog site at https://freeyourthinkingmind.com/ and she is certified brain health specialist.
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