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UPS knowingly puts defective trucks on the road

Written by Steve Gursten Posted April 18th, 2013

UPS settles allegations that it cheated safety protocols and knowingly placed 129 trucks on New York roads with damaged and rotting frames

UPS puts defective trucks on the road

I came across this truly frightening story recently in the Waterton Daily Times.  Delivery giant UPS  was knowingly operating defective trucks in New York.  With approximately 94,600 vehicles in operation (many of which are large tractor-trailers), UPS has a major presence on the American highways.

And that’s what makes this story so shocking.

New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced last month that UPS has settled allegations that the company “knowingly endangered” the lives of their own truck drivers, and the lives of the general public, by intentionally putting defective trucks on the road.

The settlement cost UPS $1.3 million.  Our own attorneys think it should have cost UPS more.  The problem with a $1.3 million dollar settlement is that it amounts to almost nothing to the transport giant.  And therefore, it does not serve as a deterrent to future short-cuts when the upside gained by cheating safety rules and endangering others is so much more than the risk of getting caught.

The AG began investigating UPS after being tipped off that the company had knowingly placed dangerous semi-trucks, and its smaller delivery trucks, with cracked and damaged frames, in operation on the highway.  UPS did this in blatant violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and State Law. The investigation revealed statewide issues involving company maintenance and inspection procedure.

Following the AG investigation, it was revealed that UPS had 129 trucks in its New York fleet with cracked, rotting or otherwise defective frames.

Although every single one of these trucks should have been taken off the road immediately, astonishingly, some of these vehicles were “kept in regular, continuous service for months.”  In some of the more extreme cases, the damaged trucks were operating for up to two years after discovering the damaged frame.

How did these defective UPS trucks pass inspection?

None of these trucks should have passed inspection. Not a single one. But they did because UPS was able to cheat the system. The company did have an inspection procedure in place, and actually was regularly inspecting its trucks, as required by law.  But as always, the devil is in the details.

The mechanics who were inspecting these trucks were UPS employees.  The investigation revealed that company mechanics were certifying the “safe” condition of the vehicles, despite the fact that they had cracked or rotted frames, and should have failed inspection.

What is even more outrageous is that the mechanics identified the issues to UPS!   This is not a situation where a few bad mechanics cut corners on safety and kept quiet about it.  This is the worst kind of safety failure; a systematic, company-wide culture that puts profit above the lives of others. It is this type of systemic culture that Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable members see so often in our own cases, when company safety managers and even company owners, put pressure on mechanics and truck drivers who want to do the right and safe thing. This happens when the right and safe thing conflicts with maximizing profits.

As part of the settlement, UPS agreed to retain an independent inspector, who must be pre-approved by the AG, to conduct all New York State UPS vehicle inspections. This is a smart move. It is clear that UPS cannot be trusted to monitor itself. UPS also agreed to graduated fines for future violations of applicable Federal and State law.

Could this be the tip of the iceberg for UPS trucks, other trucking companies that take safety shortcuts?

That said, it must be pointed out that this investigation only focused on offenses related to defective truck frames. This begs the question: are there more dangerous UPS trucks in New York – and many other states right now – operating with shoddy brakes?  Defective steering?  Inadequate tires?

This inquiry was only limited to New York.  How many dangerous semi-trucks is UPS placing on the road across the country?  UPS may very well have mechanics “looking the other way” and passing off dangerous transport trucks as being “safe” in every state in America. Our attorneys strongly encourage attorney generals from across the country to take a hard look at UPS.

This also makes one wonder: what other bad trucking companies are cheating the system and putting people in danger?

This behavior is inexcusable.  It  is the absolute worst and most infuriating kind of safety violation.  This is not a small mom and pop trucking company “cutting corners” on safety, but a multi-billion dollar transportation giant that made a management decision to  gamble with people’s lives.

Some people will dismiss what I write as just a truck accident attorney, but having seen how badly people get hurt or even killed in these crashes, and what this does to the families affected, I just cannot say that $1.3M “punishment” is enough.

Related information:

Who to blame when a commercial truck causes an accident

Trucking regulations in a self-regulated industry

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Zyph Bear

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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