Last year Amazon started Amazon Key which allows members to receive deliveries at home when they are not there. It requires a fee for a keyless lock setup and a camera so when the delivery is made, you can either watch as it happens, or it is recorded.
Amazon provides notice by the phone when the window of time when delivery can be expected. The latest development allows for Amazon to deliver packages to the trunk of your automobile. Right now, this service is only available with certain models of GM and Volvo automobiles and only in certain locations.
The Amazon delivery person only opens the door to your house enough to push the package in through the door. They are not supposed to leave until the door is locked again. In the car service, Amazon will be able to track the location of your car through GPS, you also need to have the OnStar service subscription.
Because the services are so new, the law is relatively unclear, but it is not too soon to be concerned how they can affect you in the future.
Liability and Damages with the Amazon Key
When you sign up for Amazon you agree that if there are any disputes, they will be taken to arbitration rather than to court.
Arbitration is where private individuals not judges, or courts will hear and decide your claim. They are supposed to be efficient and speedier than regular courts, but this is not agreed to by everyone.
This puts you as to a disadvantage. Maryland lawyers, for example know the laws of this state well, but obviously will not be as familiar with those of Washington State. You are prevented from bringing a class action, a case where you other similarly situated.
The minimum fees for filing arbitration costs $800, a lot more than for example, small claims court. There are times it may be possible to argue that arbitration will not apply, but that would take and time to money to litigate. Companies overwhelming prefer arbitration as a way of discouraging claim filings and insuring only the laws they like will apply.
Filing a Claim for Amazon Key
Assuming you have a claim against Amazon that you want to pursue, there are two main issues: causation and agency.
Causation means it will be necessary to prove the act of delivery caused the damage that occurred. Some evidence will be clear because all deliveries are supposed to be recorded installed when occurring, and you are notified when it occurs.
Some other issues may be unclear since the camera may not give access to what happens in the house. However, let’s give an example of a potential claim:
An Amazon delivery person pushes packages inside the door to your house. When they do, the edge of one of the boxes knocks into an end table, and a valuable heirloom that was on it comes crashing down and shatters.
Is Amazon liable or is it your fault for leaving something so valuable so close to the front door? Causation needs to be resolved to determine if the claim can proceed.
Or what if with the car service, the delivery person opens your trunk and your laptop comes flying out and crashes to the ground?
Again, the issue of causation arises, but unlike the home delivery there is no visual recording to fall back on. It may be years before there are enough incidents to be clear how Amazon will handle or defend themselves against liability.
In one way, arbitration may be helpful to claimants. Maryland is a contributory negligence state, which means if you are 1% liable, you cannot recover at all. Most other jurisdiction follow comparative negligence which could provide a broader avenue to recovery. Therefore, you may be able to recover more under a non-Maryland law.
What is Agency?
Agency means showing that an act was performed within the scope of employment. While the Amazon delivery people are supposed hand picked to be discrete and careful, let’s suppose that a delivery person went inside the house and found someone and attacked them. Is Amazon liable?
It “probably” must be shown that when they attack occurred, it was in furtherance of their job duties or they are not liable. Amazon would argue since the delivery instructions are explicit to only put the packages just behind the door and then lock it, the employee was acting beyond the scope of their employment. If it turns out the employee had a history of violence and sexual assault that Amazon did not catch, then Amazon may be liable for a negligent hire.
What Happens if an Amazon Key Delivery Person Is Injured on My Property?
What if it is the delivery person who suffers an injury, slipping on a patch of ice on the sidewalk to the front door? This should be covered under Workers’ Compensation Claims, another tribunal which is different from a regular court.
If there is still a lawsuit from the employee, it should be covered for defense by homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Because the Amazon system provides notice for delivery and the delivery is recorded any incidents occurring will have the advantage of being recorded.
Invasion of Privacy?
By far the biggest question marks that arise under the law is anticipating if Amazon Key will lead to an erosion of privacy rights that we think we are entitled to.
Amazon Key arose because homeowners were unhappy with having their packages stolen from outside their front door. The service provided to homeowners and now to some car owners was developed to resolve this problem by providing secured delivery.
However, with every change there is a flipside, which is loss of control over our property.
Under the U.S. Constitution it has been found that we have a right to privacy both under federal and state law, however there are limitations and exceptions.
Likewise, we are guaranteed the right against self-incrimination and unreasonable search and seizures. Many cases specifically provide that our rights will be in keeping with our” expectations” to have these rights available to us. If someone robs a bank but leaves a trail of money that’s left in the bed of a pickup truck, it’s reasonable to believe that careless criminal has waived his right to privacy as well as his right not to have his truck searched.
Do we lose our right to privacy if a delivery person observes an instrument of a crime?
However, what if an Amazon Delivery person opens the trunk to a car to place a package and notices a baggie they think is filled with illegal drugs? Does that customer have a right of privacy or did they give it up when they sign up for Amazon Key?
What if a home delivery allows a delivery person to see into the house and notice what they believe is evidence of a crime? Could they call the police who then enter the house and do a thorough search from top to bottom without a warrant?
Do we lose our privacy by agreeing to use Amazon Key?
It is even possible that by agreeing to Amazon Key, a customer might be perceived as lessening expectations of privacy generally. This may depend in part how widespread the use of the service becomes, and the amount of data or information Amazon gathers as a result.
Amazon and Home Robots
The latest breakthrough from Amazon is that they may be selling home robots, possibly as soon as next year (Amazon is notoriously secretive, and this has not been yet confirmed). This could be a complete game changer: a robot in your house would have 24/7 access to your house and what is going on.
Amazon’s Alexa voice enabled devices to have already been used to collect evidence that have been used in court proceedings, like wiretaps. There is no reason not to think these devices of conveniences as well as Amazon Key delivery services, to find ways of sharing information to third parties that we would just as soon keep to ourselves.
Will You Be OK With the New Technology?
Some individuals well be completely comfortable giving access to Amazon over their home and information, others may be concerned as to how technologies will work and be legally interpreted in the future. It will be important either as a homeowner or delivery person to keep with the changes that occur almost as fast as the latest technological updates.
Currently Amazon Key products are receiving a 3.9 out of 5 stars in ratings, with the number one complaint that the products don’t always work as promised, or that deliveries fail to occur as promised. Nothing is perfect, and mistakes and glitches are inevitable.
Nevertheless, it all points to the importance of relying on expert advice and keeping track of the legal developments that may come from decisions and statutes not originally designed to deal with remote deliveries and robots.