BY: Matthew Curtis | IN: Personal Injury
Thanks to Amazon, we expect the products we order to ship immediately. To improve the speed and efficiency of its deliveries, Amazon uses a network of options, including Amazon-branded trucks, independent delivery companies, and traditional shippers like FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service.
In the past few years, some startling articles have caused people to ask who is responsible when a vehicle delivering Amazon packages causes an accident. Like many legal questions, the answer depends on the facts of each case.
Under Michigan law, an employer is liable for its employees’ wrongful acts if they happen while an employee is performing duties within the scope of their employment. This is called “respondeat superior.” If an employee is within the scope of their job, their employer is legally responsible if they negligently cause an accident, damage property, or cause injuries. This doctrine usually covers delivery drivers making approved deliveries for an employer, and their employers’ insurance is usually liable for accidents caused by their negligence.
However, although many delivery drivers operate Amazon-branded trucks, wear Amazon-identifying apparel, and seem to be employees of Amazon, the company classifies most as “independent contractors.” This means they are independently responsible for any damages or legal liability. While Amazon requires these contractors to carry auto liability insurance, the drivers’ policy limits are often low and may not fully compensate accident victims for their injuries. However, because they are not employees of Amazon, the company does not have any legal liability for their negligent acts, and its insurance will not pay.
Similarly, if an Amazon package is delivered by an independent delivery service or another delivery carrier, a person injured in a collision with that vehicle would not be able to recover compensation from Amazon. The terms of Amazon’s contracts with its delivery services shield it from liability, so a plaintiff must attempt to recover through the services’ independent insurers. Individual drivers may also carry umbrella policies that could provide additional sources of insurance funds.
Fortunately for Michigan drivers, the state’s unique no-fault insurance requirements allow drivers injured in auto accidents to file claims under their own insurance coverage rather than that of the other driver. Neither the amount of coverage an independent contractor has (or does not have) nor the ability or inability to sue Amazon for damages has much effect on an accident victim’s compensation.
In 2021, however, significant changes to the state’s insurance requirements took effect. Although drivers must still buy Personal Injury Protection (PIP), Property Protection (PPI), and Residual Bodily Injury and Property Damage Liability (BI/PD) coverage, the law no longer requires unlimited PIP coverage. Therefore, your own insurance may not fully compensate you or your passengers for their injuries if you purchase lower coverage amounts. If your injuries are extensive, you may have to pursue legal action against a driver. If you are involved in an accident as a pedestrian and do not carry auto insurance, you also may have to file a lawsuit.
While driver error or negligence is often responsible for motor vehicle collisions involving Amazon trucks, other factors may contribute to accidents. Poor truck maintenance may contribute to a crash, which may be a factor within Amazon’s control. Third parties (like other drivers, pedestrians, businesses, or roadway users) may be partly responsible for a collision and have insurance coverage. Poorly designed or maintained alleys or roads, parking lots, access roads, and driveways may also cause accidents and open other doors for a plaintiff to recover compensation.
Experienced personal injury attorneys will explore all avenues to recover the compensation you deserve and hold the responsible parties liable for your injuries. If you have been injured in an auto accident or vehicle collision, contact an attorney immediately.
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Matthew Curtis is a senior shareholder and member of the Board of Directors at Sommers Schwartz, P.C. For the past 30 years, he has successfully litigated complex personal injury and medical malpractice cases throughout Michigan, and across the United States.