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Alex HeatonDavid YarboroughSean Claggett

Alex Heaton · David Yarborough · Sean Claggett

$44.6 Million Verdict in Amazon DSP/Agency Case

TLU Icon April 30, 2024 5:30 PM||TLU n Demand

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Shannon Shaw was injured while riding his motorcycle with his son on a rural road near Charleston, South Carolina when an Amazon delivery van turned left in front of him. Shannon was 43 at the time and worked full-time as a maintenance technician for a telecommunications company. The September 2020 collision left Shannon with numerous orthopedic injuries and a mild traumatic brain injury. He has not been able to return to work since the collision., Inc., Amazon Logistics, Inc., Amazon’s local delivery service partner (DSP), and the delivery driver/delivery associate (DA) were named defendants. The DSP and DA admitted simple negligence at trial. Amazon, however, continued to heavily dispute liability, claiming no agency relationship existed. Amazon argued the DSP and DA were independent contractors and, therefore, Amazon was not vicariously liable. After a four-day trial and approximately four hours of deliberation, a jury returned a $44.6 million verdict, including $30 million in punitive damages against Amazon.

Plaintiff’s pre-mediation demand was $26 million. Defendants’ offer prior to and throughout trial remained approximately $1.25 million.

The case dealt with the following issues:

  1. Litigating the independent contractor defense – this was the first case in the country where Amazon tested the issue of whether the drivers of its trademark blue delivery vans are agents of Amazon versus independent contractors. How we established Amazon’s control of the DSP and DA early in the deposition phase and highlighted the absurdity of Amazon’s independent contractor defense.
  2. Dealing with likable defendants – Defendant DSP and DA were very pleasant. The DSP owner was a hardworking small business owner who started every shift with a prayer and prayed for Shannon upon learning of the collision. The DA was also a nice young man who was apologetic and accepted responsibility. How we approached these witnesses and gained ammunition from Amazon’s distancing from the DSP and DA.
  3. Creating red herrings with case themes – how we focused defendants’ attention on the emphasis on speed of deliveries over safety while we worked to build our distracted driving case.
  4. Distracted driving – A few key third-party subpoenas helped us discover and develop our trial theme of distracted driving. How we used records/data from DA’s phone and mobile apps that Amazon required the DA to use to establish the DA’s habit of distracted driving and Amazon’s knowledge of his unsafe driving behaviors.
  5. No helmet in a motorcycle crash – South Carolina law does not require riders to wear helmets. We were initially concerned about that issue given Shannon’s traumatic brain injury, but at trial we embraced the fact that Shannon was not wearing a helmet the more defendants disputed the legitimacy of his TBI.
  6. Proving permanent cognitive limitations in a mild TBI case – Shannon’s TBI was heavily contested due to no documentation of positive LOC on scene, a Glasgow Coma Scale of 14 at the scene and 15 at the hospital, normal head CT, and same-day discharge. How we used treating providers, visual aids, and before-and-after witnesses to establish Shannon’s cognitive limitations.
  7. Proving $9 million in future medicals, which mostly included 24/7 in-home video monitoring, were necessary.
  8. Client presence in court and testimony – choosing when to have Shannon present at trial, how we prepared him to testify effectively, and how we mitigated surveillance video of him that we anticipated would be used on cross.
  9. Reframing of Shannon’s story considering jury makeup and no attorney-conducted voir dire or specific questions related to traumatic brain injuries, chronic pain, motorcycles, and children on motorcycles.
  10. Speed trial – paring down witnesses to put up 16 in 2.5 days and dealing with last minute delays from defense.

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