Under the legal theory of respondeat superior, companies can be held responsible for the actions of their employees or agents. This is because the company directs their actions and/or gives them authority to act on the company’s behalf.
But when Amazon delivery drivers get into crashes and injure themselves or other people, Amazon says it isn’t responsible. It claims that all its delivery drivers are either independent contractors or employees of contracting companies. Companies generally aren’t liable for the actions of independent contractors or other companies.
There is a point at which they can be, however. If Amazon controls the details of the delivery drivers’ work, those drivers’ actions could be attributable to Amazon. If, for example, Amazon constantly pressed the drivers for more speed, it could be held responsible for traffic crashes caused by that pressure.
Does Amazon have policies that control the details of the delivery drivers’ work?
According to a recent exposé by the New York Times and ProPublica, it certainly appears to.
Amazon delivery drivers get work through an app. Through that app, Amazon directs not only the order of the deliveries but also the driver’s specific route. The app tracks the driver’s progress, and those who get behind can expect a call from an Amazon dispatcher.
The company demands that 999 out of every 1,000 deliveries be on time, even though Amazon offers same-day and one-day delivery. The pressure for speed is immense, and Amazon retains the right to tell contracting companies to ditch drivers who don’t measure up.
That’s a great deal of control over the details of the work, and If a case against Amazon were before a court, there’s a very good chance Amazon would be found liable.
Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get a case against Amazon into court at all. The company has put a substantial barrier in the way: a strict indemnity clause.
All contractors and contracting companies agree to defend Amazon
According to the exposé, an Amazon operations manager testified in Chicago recently that all its “delivery service partners” sign, as part of their contracts, an agreement to “defend, indemnify and hold harmless Amazon” for “all loss or damage to personal property or bodily harm including death.”
Not only does this agreement require the delivery contractor to accept full responsibility for any traffic accidents but it also requires those contractors to defend Amazon in court. Moreover, if Amazon were to be found responsible for an accident, the delivery contractor would have to pay any damages Amazon were ordered to pay.
This is especially troubling when it comes to individual contractors who contract directly with Amazon. Although they are required to carry liability insurance appropriate for their work, they may find themselves with insufficient coverage for a serious accident involving injuries or deaths. If they don’t, they could be required to pay any uncovered damages out of their own pocket.
Similarly, individual contractors rarely have workers’ compensation insurance. If they’re injured while delivering for Amazon, they must rely on their auto or health insurance to cover their medical bills, and these types of insurance do not include coverage for lost wages.
Is this even legal?
That’s unclear. In the case of a crash caused by an Amazon delivery driver, the first thing an attorney might do is try to have Amazon’s indemnity clause invalidated. That said, it will take time for these cases to make their way through the courts.
If you’ve been in a crash with an Amazon delivery driver, don’t give up. Discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney.