Family sues Amazon over crash
March 16, 2023
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — A family is accusing Amazon of negligently employing “dangerous” drivers and trucking companies to conduct business in Wyoming, which led to the wrongful death of a husband and father on Interstate 80 in Sweetwater County.
Two years ago, Daniel DeBeer was driving down I-80 when an Amazon tractor-trailer drove over the highway median and smashed head-on into oncoming traffic, the complaint alleges. DeBeer, 33, was killed in the fiery crash.
This was the second time the Amazon driver crashed within four days, and in both instances, he drove directly into the median.
Amazon allegedly hires “unfit, unqualified, unvetted, untrained, and/or dangerous drivers and trucking companies” in order to quickly and cheaply deliver items, according to the Feb. 28 complaint.
Casper Attorneys Grant H. Lawson and Joseph P. Chenchar filed the lawsuit on behalf of DeBeer’s wife, Kimberly, and their three sons.
An Amazon spokesman said the company was limited in what it could say given the existing litigation.
“We offer our sincere condolences to the DeBeer family for their loss,” spokesman Steve Kelly said. “Safety is at the core of everything we do and our goal is zero incidents and fatalities across our network.”
A staple of Amazon is its extra-fast delivery, which sometimes guarantees products will arrive to a customer within hours. To do so, the company uses a combination of owned and branded “Prime” equipment and workers along with an extensive network of outside contractors. Often, the delivery times are “unrealistic” for drivers, but they can still face penalties for failing to drop off a package on time, the lawsuit states.
This places pressure on truck drivers to potentially act unsafely — driving while tired or distracted, pushing through extreme weather conditions and operating faulty machinery.
Any drivers with equipment, insurance and motor carrier authority can apply to haul cargo for Amazon, the lawsuit says. They just can’t have an “unsatisfactory” rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety.
But there is a loophole undermining the already lenient safety requirement, the lawsuit states. Many of Amazon’s carriers are newly formed trucking companies that are “unrated,” meaning they have never had a compliance review. Amazon has no such policy against hiring them.
This simultaneously allows for “chameleon carriers,” which is a series of trucking companies that operate for short periods of time until their motor carrier authority is revoked. Then, these chameleon carriers just continue to operate under a new name until their motor carrier authority is revoked again. And the cycle continues.
These entities are “shells with no significant assets, employees, or experience in the trucking or transportation industries and the Amazon Defendants use them to conduct its transportation operations – a fleet of inexperienced, unsafe drivers lacking any established safety history,” the lawsuit states.
Amazon is also accused of targeting those new companies through advertisements that claim they can earn $300,000 yearly, which is based on misleading data and unrealistic assumptions, the lawsuit says.
“The purpose of the Amazon Defendants’ targeting people with little or no experience in trucking is because those persons are more likely to perform transportation services at lower than market rates, which serves the purpose of eliminating or reducing competition in the transportation services industry by undercutting prevailing transportation rates,” the lawsuit says.
It’s a recipe for disaster on the roads, critics say and isn’t a Wyoming-specific issue. Amazon drivers have killed and permanently disabled dozens of people all over the country.
For example, only a few months after DeBeer’s crash, an Amazon delivery truck rear-ended a Tesla Model S on a busy highway in Atlanta. A 24-year-old in the backseat was left paralyzed.
On March 27, 2021, an Amazon driver contracted for a delivery trip drove into the median of I-80 in Iowa. He was cited for “failure to maintain control.” It was believed that fatigue, distraction or both contributed to him losing control of his 18-wheeler.
This crash placed the trip significantly behind schedule and required repairs to be performed, the lawsuit alleges.
Amazon would have immediately known about the dangerous crash and the driver’s unsafe condition. Despite this, he was allowed to continue driving the truck to complete his route.
He veered off the roadway for the second time only four days later in Sweetwater County, this time killing DeBeer.
The Wyoming Highway Patrol announced shortly after the crash that inattentive driving, fatigue and possible equipment issues were all being investigated as contributing factors.
This story was published on Mar. 15, 2023.