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What Victims Can Expect From Litigation Against United Natural Foods

The period after a commercial vehicle collision can be a confusing time. Between attempting to keep the lights on and recovering from your injuries, you're probably not in the ideal position to consider the many legal challenges of obtaining compensation from the company responsible. However, because overcoming those challenges successfully is the only way to avoid being taken advantage of, it's important to obtain legal help that's fully prepared to do so.

In the case of wrecks involving United Natural Foods, the unique time pressures of grocery delivery may mean their drivers are more likely to be driving fatigued than those in other sectors of commercial transportation. This makes it that much more important to have a full investigation of the driver's and dispatcher's compliance with hours-of-service regulations after a collision. Multi-award winning semi-truck accident attorney Michael Grossman explains.

Questions Answered on This Page:

  • What is United Natural Foods?
  • How many crashes involving injury or death have the company's vehicles been involved in?
  • How do the time pressures of grocery delivery affect litigation against United Natural Foods?

Crash statistics from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data

What is United Natural Foods?

Founded in 1996 from the merger of Mountain People's Warehouse and Cornucopia Natural Foods, natural and organic food distributor United Natural Foods (UNFI) currently controls the 23rd largest private commercial fleet in the U.S. Its roughly 1,000 semi-trucks and 1,300 drivers traveled over 65 million miles in 2018. The company generated a bit over $10 billion in revenue that year.

Over the past two years, federal government data indicates the company's vehicles have been involved in 97 collisions, of which 27 led to injuries and 2 resulted in fatalities. While these numbers make no indication of responsibility for these events, it's fairly likely that the carelessness of a UNFI driver caused at least some of them.

Because UNFI's business model involves delivering grocery products, the lengthy waiting periods that are often involved with deliveries to grocery stores may also be relevant to litigation against them after a crash. Because longer waits often mean reduced sleep, it's important to investigate whether fatigue played a role in any crash involving a driver for the company.

How The Time Pressures of Grocery Delivery Affect Your Case

There are a wide variety of factors that can contribute to wrecks involving commercial vehicles. Factors like driver inattention, speeding to make deliveries on time, and mechanical issues, among others, should all be thoroughly investigated as soon as possible. But considering how widespread a problem it is in the industry, one potential cause doesn't always get the attention it deserves: driver fatigue.

The scope of the problem across the industry is hard to deny. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, fatigued operation accounts for 750 deaths and 20,000 injuries from commercial vehicle crashes every year. Another study found that almost 50 percent of 600 truckers surveyed stated that they had fallen asleep behind the wheel at some point during their career, with a quarter saying they had done so in the last year.

The FMCSA recognizes the significant risks posed by fatigue, which is why it has extensive regulations limiting the amount of time that commercial drivers can be "on duty" within a given period. Egregious violation of these rules can result in fines for both drivers and their employers, but considering how low those fines are as a percentage of total revenues and how few personnel are available to enforce the regulations, many companies likely view these as just the cost of doing business, and not a genuine incentive to follow the rules.

Who's responsible when fatigue-related crashes occur? It's tempting to just blame the drivers who put the desire to make more money over getting safe amounts of rest, and in some cases, that's probably fair. But it's also not the whole story. Because of the pronounced shortage of qualified operators, many companies are attempting to move the same amount of freight with fewer drivers than they would ideally like to have. In many cases, there's simply no way to accomplish that goal without pressuring or even ordering drivers to travel further with less sleep, exceed the speed limit, or both.

It's at least conceivable that some dispatchers are willing to take a chance, assign more loads than can safely be delivered in a given period of time while taking required breaks, and let drivers read between the lines.

In theory, any commercial driver has a legally protected right to refuse any instruction from their dispatcher they consider unsafe. In practice, it's unlikely that most of them will be willing to disobey the person who decides how many loads they're assigned, and therefore how much money they make, and could potentially fire them altogether. When it comes to a choice between obeying federal safety protocols and making sure they can pay their rent, it's not hard to figure out where most truckers will come down.

This problem is likely to be even more acute when drivers for grocery companies, like United Natural Foods, are involved. To help you understand why, we have to briefly outline how this kind of freight differs from others. Most drivers of commercial vehicles don't have to be concerned about anything except getting to their destination on time, ensuring their vehicle is in good condition, and (hopefully) getting adequate rest.

This means that a typical delivery is pretty straightforward: drive your vehicle up to the loading dock, unhook the trailer from the cab, and go on your way. By contrast, grocery delivery drivers typically either have to unload their freight by hand or wait, still "on-duty," sometimes for hours at a time, while other staff complete the process. Either way, they're spending a lot of time becoming more fatigued while remaining alert and not on the road.

Ideally, dispatchers for companies in this subsection of commercial transport would take these factors into account when creating schedules for their drivers, and one hopes that many of them do. But it's at least conceivable that some are willing to take a chance, assign more loads than can safely be delivered in a given period of time while taking required breaks, and let drivers read between the lines.

However, it's not always easy to tease out whether a crash is caused by fatigue or other causes. This is especially true when the only people investigating are local police, whose main concern is determining whether there are grounds for criminal charges, not figuring out exactly what happened. This is why it's critical to get help from an attorney familiar with the telltale signs of fatigue-related wrecks, like drifting over the center line and the absence of markings showing a sudden attempt to brake.

With a full investigation and judicial approval, they can determine exactly what happened in your crash and obtain the evidence required to prove it. In the case of driver fatigue, this would include the electronic logs of hours on-duty that drivers are required to keep, as well as transcripts of their dispatcher's instructions.

Of course, because all of this evidence legally belongs to the company, and they have every interest in not surrendering it, only a properly drafted and judicially approved subpoena can compel them to do so. These documents aren't just wishlists of what you need; there are very particular rules regarding how they need to be drafted, and judges aren't known for being flexible about things like this.

How Grossman Law Offices Can Give Your Claim A Fighting Chance

Properly investigating potential fatigued driving is just one of the hundreds of tasks that may need to be performed as your commercial vehicle accident claim proceeds. To protect your ability to obtain fair compensation from the company responsible for your injuries in the face of their attorneys' strategies for avoiding responsibility, it's important to obtain qualified help.

Our firm has nearly 30 years of experience successfully litigating injury and wrongful death cases involving commercial vehicles. Having guided hundreds of claims to a strong resolution, we're fully prepared to combat whatever the other side can throw at us with extensive evidence, crafted into a compelling narrative.

If you've been injured or lost a loved one in a crash involving a United Naturals semi-truck, please call (855) 326-0000 to find out how our attorneys can help you. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to give you straightforward advice about your legal options.

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