On a busy Georgia interstate, Ans Rana rode in the backseat of his brother’s Tesla. His father sat in the passenger seat. Brake lights littered the traffic in their lane as they slowed to go around a stalled car ahead.
A blue blur flashed through the back window. An Amazon delivery van smashed into the Model S from behind. On impact, the van was speeding at more than 67 miles per hour in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. It crushed the Tesla’s rear end and sent it spinning into the next lane, where another car slammed into it.
The father and sons were battered and injured, and eventually, the three were transported to the hospital. The collision hit 24-year-old Ans Rana the worst. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and injuries to his spinal cord. For months, he needed a ventilator to help him breathe.
Rana was eventually released from the hospital into the care of his sister. He had to use a motorized wheelchair. Between the migraines and the freezing sensations in his legs, he tried to stay optimistic, but mostly, he just felt like a burden to his family. His family sacrificed their time getting him out of bed and feeding him, brushing his teeth and washing his body, combing his hair, and taking him to doctors’ appointments.
Before the crash, Rana played sports. He loved video games and hanging out with friends. He dreamed of becoming a doctor and was getting ready to take the Medical College Admissions Test. Now, he focuses on walking again and regaining his motor skills.
In 2021, Rana filed a lawsuit against Amazon Logistics, claiming the online giant was culpable for the accident. The lawsuit alleges Amazon’s algorithm that manages the company’s extensive logistical operations is to blame for the crash.
Rana seeks damages for his medical bills and diminished earnings in the future. His case is one of many aimed at proving Amazon’s algorithm puts its drivers in unfair positions and endangers the public.
Amazon claims it cannot be held liable because the driver did not even work for them. The driver was an employee of Harper Logistics LLC. In the last few years, thousands of small delivery services have popped up to specifically carry packages for Amazon.
In 2018, Amazon sought to reduce its dependency on the U.S. Postal Service and the United Parcel Service (UPS) by starting a partner program for deliveries. The program promised entrepreneurs big returns from small investments. Since then, more than 250,000 drivers have been employed by approximately 2,500 delivery partners around the world.
Amazon’s logistical algorithm manages all aspects of the delivery process, from the number of packages delivered by each driver to monitoring and messaging drivers during delivery to ensuring company compliance and human resource tasks like firing drivers. In some cases, it micromanages by monitoring the drivers via video, berating and threatening them for missing deadlines.
Rana’s lawsuit states that this extensive control over Harper Logistics’ day-to-day operations illustrates the e-commerce titan is more than a mere customer of the delivery service. The filings claim this algorithm not only manages and monitors the drivers but it also demands unrealistic delivery schedules that require hazardous speed and reckless driving to complete.
Amazon claims that it recently invested more than $1 billion in its delivery operations, focusing on improving safety with technology and training programs. According to Amazon, these improvements saw a decrease in accidents, traffic violations, and incidents of distracted driving. But even with this supposed reduction in accidents, the company is seeing more filings of motor vehicle injury lawsuits.
Amazon’s push to produce more deliveries in less time could be getting worse as the workforce decreases, gas prices soar, and supply chains see more complications. These pressures put Amazon’s delivery contractors and drivers in a pinch. Many of them have described Amazon’s algorithm as a system that holds delivery performance above driver and public safety. These contractors have asked for more reasonable delivery schedules and expectations.
Untangling an Intentional Mess
These collisions are not just Amazon problems. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), hundreds of crashes involve UPS and FedEx drivers each year. Personal injury lawsuits involving commercial vehicles are typically settled without much fanfare, but this case is different.
Because Amazon outsources substantial portions of its operations, the contractors must provide their own liability insurance because the contractors do not own their vans. They lease them and often only carry $1 million or so in coverage.
Rana already owes more than $2 million in medical bills alone, not to mention the expense his injuries will cost over the course of his life.
In some cases, drivers work in the Flex program where drivers use their own cars to deliver Amazon packages. Amazon provides drivers with supplemental insurance during deliveries.
Rana’s lawsuit not only names Amazon, but it also lists Harper Logistics, Old Republic Insurance Company, and the van’s driver, Bryan Williams. He was 23-year-old at the time of the crash and made a little more than $15 an hour. Both Williams and Harper Logistics probably lack the financial assets to pay Rana the judgment he is seeking.
In 2021, Amazon reported $469 billion in sales revenue.
A similar case happened in 1993 when a delivery driver for Domino’s Pizza tried to honor the company’s 30-minute delivery guarantee. He ran a red light and smashed another car, causing the driver to suffer head and spinal injuries. A Domino’s franchise employed the driver, but the woman sued the parent company. The jury held Domino’s Pizza Inc. liable because its delivery guarantee endangered the public. She was awarded $78 million in punitive damages, and Domino’s Pizza abandoned the guarantee.
In 2021, the delivery arm of Amazon had to manage more than 100 motor vehicle injury lawsuits in more than 30 states. This quadrupled 2020’s numbers. Even though Amazon has argued its technology is protected and should stay a secret to the public, these legal battles could utilize a disclosure tactic where Amazon’s guarded algorithms are publicly scrutinized.
If Rana and these other lawsuits are successful, it could provide the strategic game plan for holding Amazon Logistics accountable.