A recent lawsuit filed against Amazon and AAA Freight is shedding light on what many throughout the industry have had growing concerns about; prioritizing shipping speed and cost savings for driver safety. In January of 2020, Timothy Weakley, a truck driver based out of Tennessee, claimed in a lawsuit against Amazon and AAA Freight, a trucking company who contracted with Amazon, that both companies were forcing the driver to work shifts that far exceeded the time allotted to drivers by federal law. Ultimately, these extended shifts resulted in Weakley falling asleep at the wheel. Additionally, Weakley claimed that both companies were working to falsify his driver logs in an effort to hide the drive time violations.
While the lawsuit is still in its infancy, and there appears to be many unanswered questions at this point, there is already one key takeaway from Weakley’s lawsuit that will likely have many asking questions about Amazon’s oversight and adherence to federal law. For instance, Weakley’s suit stated that Amazon was well aware of his drive time violations because of its “sophisticated freight tracking application” which was said to have tracked Weakley’s movement in the truck to the “millisecond 24/7.” If proven true, this could certainly result in a greater chance for Amazon being held liable for allowing Weakley to drive what he alleges was “20-30 hours or more with only an hour or two of rest.”
Without having an inside look into what the contract between both Amazon and AAA Freight looked like, we will have to wait and see how this lawsuit is handled in the future; however, one point remains clear; there is no doubt that as shipping speeds continue to enhance and volume rises, the trucking industry is being forced to adhere to increasingly high standards. Amazon is a billion-dollar company with a founder who just so happens to be the richest person in the world. The idea that a company with such power and influence could be asking its contractors to violate the federal law to meet its shipping standards, is not so far-fetched. On the other hand, even if some in the industry believe that Amazon has done nothing wrong and this lawsuit falls squarely on the shoulders of the contractor who actually employed Mr. Weakley, it’s not hard to imagine that a contractor wouldn’t be willing to push their employees to the limit to adhere to what we can only imagine is a lucrative shipping contract with Amazon. At a time when the trucking industry has once again been deemed to be struggling, would a trucking company really be willing to do something that could result in a deterioration of its relationship with one of the most powerful companies in the world?
Aside from focusing on whether Amazon could actually be held liable in this lawsuit, we must also remember that if the allegations that Mr. Weakley brought forth are proven true, this presents a major setback to any argument that federal drive time regulations are too strict and should become more flexible. Based on the proposed hours of service changes, truck drivers would be given more flexibility in dividing the required time they must spend in the sleeper berth of their trucks. We have written countless times about the effects of such a change, and this lawsuit only goes to show that such a change would likely result in further incidents where trucking companies are pushing their drivers to the limit.
More importantly, lawsuits such as this one must become a warning sign for drivers on the road. The reality is that while Amazon may be great for offering the best shipping speeds and price that money can buy, they have a well-documented history of failing to provide adequate safety standards for their employees, including truck drivers. If the allegations that Mr. Weakley brought forth are true, this means that the truck driver next to you could possibly have been driving for more than 20 hours on the road. Imagine working for more than 20 hours in one day. Now imagine your work involving being responsible for a truck that weighs over 40,000 pounds and having to drive it safely. That is serious cause for concern. So, while many may see this lawsuit and may immediately jump to the conclusion that the independent contractor, AAA Freight, is clearly responsible for the employee’s truck crash, just try and think a bit more about what it means to have one of the most powerful companies in the world writing a check for your business.