UNACCOUNTABLE! The United States Postal Service is a Rogue Company Delivering Road Violence

U.S. Postal Service drivers have no respect for vehicle rules. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
U.S. Postal Service drivers have no respect for vehicle rules. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It’s enough to make you go postal.

United States Postal Service drivers are so reckless that the rogue agency has paid out more than $23 million to settle claims by New Yorkers who have been injured or killed in crashes caused by mail company employees since 2013.

In just six and a half years, the USPS has quietly settled 661 motor vehicular injury suits by New Yorkers, roughly 100 per year, with an average value of $35,000. Over the same period, the postal service has paid out roughly $353 million to settle 15,580 claims nationwide, more than 2,300 crashes per year, according to data obtained by Streetsblog in a Freedom of Information request as part of our ongoing investigation into the postal service. Details of the cases themselves were not provided.

The issue is accountability. United States Postal Service vehicles do not carry license plates and therefore cannot be tracked by traditional methods, such as by reviewing camera violations data in the city’s open data portal or via the seminal website Howsmydrivingny.nyc. Under federal law, the USPS does not pay the summonses that it does receive. As a result, NYPD officers rarely bother to even write tickets, which further cements the mail system’s status as a rogue service.

“New Yorkers who travel by two wheels or foot know all too well that NYPD personnel often give USPS employees a ‘pass’ to park on sidewalks, in bike lanes and other hazardous locations, with impunity,” said lawyer Steve Vaccaro, who works with clients who have been injured by drivers. “As Streetsblog’s research shows, this lax approach apparently extends to moving violations as well.”

As a result, USPS drivers use their vehicles to choke our streets, block our bike lanes, park illegally, run red lights, endanger our children — and kill our residents.

One USPS driver hit and killed Charles McClean a block from his Brooklyn apartment back in May, yet the driver has not been arrested, despite evidence — including a video — that he or she rolled through a stop sign while McClean was in the crosswalk. McClean’s brother, Arkim, said the postal service has not so much as even contacted the family, which has since hired a lawyer and is pursuing a civil case.

Gregory McClean at the intersection in Brooklyn where his brother, Charles, was killed by a postal service driver. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Gregory McClean at the intersection in Brooklyn where his brother, Charles, was killed by a postal service driver. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

“I feel like the USPS are murderers,” Arkim McClean told Streetsblog. “Because it’s the federal government they get away with murders and crimes. They need to be held accountable for all their actions!”

In the months since the McClean killing, Streetsblog has uncovered a disturbing conspiracy of silence that aides and abets Postal Service vehicular crimes: The House Oversight committee declined to comment. The City Council has not held hearings. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has no data. The USPS would not even tell Streetsblog if the driver in question had been disciplined. The agency also refused to release an unredacted version of an internal report revealing the locations of the agency’s worst drivers. (Other unanswered questions are at the bottom of this story.)

The NYPD, which investigates serious collisions on New York roads, told Streetsblog that it does not track USPS’ driving records. That’s particularly disturbing because when Streetsblog raised the issue with NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan in June, we were told to submit a FOIL request to determine how many postal service vehicles have been involved in fatal or serious crashes.

The result of that request for information? The NYPD said it does not compile such data.

But the Postal Service does. In its release of information to Streetsblog, the agency revealed that annual payouts in New York City always exceed $1 million, and have been as high as $7.1 million. Here’s the breakdown, according to the USPS:

USPS Payouts

The 2015 figure includes a $4.6-million settlement with the brother of famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz, whose sister-in-law was killed in 2011 while on a bike ride in Chelsea.

“Marilyn Dershowitz, 68, was out cycling with her husband, Nathan, near a busy postal depot on West 29th Street when she was hit by driver Ian Clement after she steered around a parked postal trailer that was sticking into the street,” the NY Post reported. The judge held the Postal Service accountable.

The legal advice of the renowned lawyer Dershowitz must have helped; the average USPS payout is in the tens of thousands of dollars, not millions.

The reason? It’s not so easy to beat the USPS and force it to settle.

“One of the biggest screwings I have gotten in my 20 years of trying cases involved a claim against the USPS,” said lawyer Daniel Flanzig, citing the requirement that all claims against the postal service be filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

“These claims are compelled to be tried in federal court without a jury,” Flanzig said. “Think about that. Suing the federal government, in federal court, with the trier of fact a federal employee and life-appointed federal court judge, and no jury. Seems a little biased, no?”

The settlement numbers above do not include settlements of less than $5,000, which “District Offices are empowered to pay quickly when they receive small claims for damages,” said USPS Managing Counsel Frank Bartholf, who estimated that the “total amount paid locally on such injury claims would be very small when compared to the larger amounts paid out by the National Tort Center.” [Chart above.]

The Postal Service declined to comment beyond that. Thousands of people nationwide and hundreds of New Yorkers have been injured by unaccountable federal employees — yet no one seems to care.

The agency has still not responded to four other questions Streetsblog fired over in May. They are:

  • Postal Service vehicles do not bear license plates from the various state motor vehicle departments that oversee many aspects of driving. As such, we do not know how many tickets or red-light or speeding summons would be issued to USPS trucks during the course of their daily travels around NYC. Do you have such numbers? Or do you have an internal approximation?
  • Similarly, given how the NYPD/state DMV lack that information, how does USPS track its drivers’ driving records (parking tickets and moving violations)?
  • How many mail trucks does USPS operate in New York City? How many pieces of mail are delivered every day in NYC?
  • Members of the City Council have complained publicly that the USPS does not respond to requests for information. Has the USPS testified before the city council about its safety record? If so, when?
  • Alex Stull

    I work for one of those other companies you mention and we get disciplined up to and including termination for accidents. Now that’s when you come back with we get disciplined also. My answer to that is not really. What’s your punishment, you get fired. A month down the road you have a hearing get your job back, retain seniority and get your bank account made whole. Not much of a punishment.

  • J C

    Mr Postman:

    “Not really. I’ll let the investigators figure that out. Now that the FBI is involved,”

    I think the point is to close up the investigation now that Epstein is dead.

    “Really? Jeff’s head wasn’t the only one equipped with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a mouth to talk.”

    But he’s the one who’d know were the files and videos are.

    “It was in the news today Ghislaine Maxwell was seen having lunch yesterday in Los Angeles, so there’s an excellent source of information.”

    She may know many things, but probably doesn’t have the files videos to back it up. Also she’s likely afraid for her life–that’s with some very real justification.

    “He probably wouldn’t have talked anyway.”

    He may have, depending on what the prosecutor was offering, like “you keep 100 million, and you get a new name”.

    “If someone raped one of them, screw the law. I’d personally cut their balls off, put them in a jar of sodium nitrate to preserve them, ”

    Which is also breaking the law, and frankly reads a bit like the justifications for lynchings.

  • AMH

    Old habits die hard. I still have coworkers that elect to receive a paper check. A few even come in to pick it up during their vacation!

  • AMH

    Unfortunately, if the post office has something for me I have to pick it up before or after work, or on Saturday. But if I need to mail something or buy stamps, I go to one near my office which has great service, and I can time my visit to avoid the line.

    No dedicated window for the checks; it’s just the general retail window. There is a dedicated window for parcel pickup but it’s often closed; this makes the difference between a 3-min wait and a 60-min wait.

    I see that the SSA stopped mailing checks in 2013 so these folks must be picking up some other kind of check.

  • MattMeslier

    what does this have to do with the article? nothing.

  • William Lawson

    “Something as unimportant as junk mail”

    Yeah so wasting tons of paper on promotional junk that goes straight in the trash, delivered by drivers who have absolutely no respect for the law or human life, is “no biggie.” Well, I guess when they are the source of your paycheck you’ll just about excuse anything. I’m sorry you see USPS as your only hope of employment.

  • William Lawson

    My anger over my experience with the police has absolutely nothing to do with my criticism of postal workers. I have no idea why you’re trying to conflate the two.

    I’m only going off years of experience with the post office in this city. Generalized comments are what they are – generalized. Everyone knows there are exceptions to these generalizations. For instance, it’s perfectly legitimate and fair to criticize the culture of the NYPD and call out their officer’s behavior in general. Everyone knows there are the occasional “good cop” exception to this. They’re still, in general, a bunch of racist bullies though.

    It seems the only difference here is that you’re upset that I’m saying something that the Post would agree with. Completely pointless angle to take with me – I really don’t give a shit if Donald Trump himself hates the post office. I’m sure that if you sat down with a Trump supporter, or someone else whose overall political views are reprehensible, you’d find some kind of common ground somewhere. Doesn’t mean you’re enabling or supporting them. Pretty pointless angle to take. Ditto the “anti-union” angle. Again, couldn’t give a shit. I generally support unions, but they don’t always behave well and I’m not going to hold them up on a pedestal and refrain from criticizing one just because “Fox news hates unions” or whatever.

    My experience, and that of many others, is that the general standard of work at post offices in the city is terrible. Why shouldn’t I relate my experiences and how they have shaped that opinion? The reasons you give are just noise.

  • Andrew

    A few even come in to pick it up during their vacation!

    Am I unusual in that I tend to go out of town for vacations, and therefore I wouldn’t be able to pick up a physical paycheck even if direct deposit weren’t available?

  • Nothing is above critique; and no one should avoid criticising a union when that union does something worth criticising. When the TWU suggested that bus drivers should be exempt from the right-of-way law, I angrily rebuked it over this. And I have often said that the TWU is wrong to not agree to modifications of the duties of the booth clerks to serve as station ombudsmen, and duties of the train conductor to serve as a “rover” inside the trains (in the manner of LIRR conductors). And, most obviously, the unions representing police officers and sergeants are straight-up fascist organisations.

    But what you are doing is using a string of unpleasant personal encounters as a basis for a blanket statement about the laziness of postal workers, from which comes unavoidable implications for all unionsed workers (based on your comments about not being fired). Furthermore, the alignment of that ugly view with the views of the worst people in our society is not incidental; it is the direct and intended result of propaganda from right-wing media. If you say that stuff, you are doing their work for them.

    I don’t like being served poorly any more than you or anyone else does. But the general standard of work at Post Office locations is definitely not terrible (notwithstanding a few individual exceptions). A reasonable person should be able to make specific critiques without lapsing into outrageous exaggerations that are not only not true, but that encourage hate against organised workers everywhere.

  • Mr Postman

    Well, the article got kinda boring so some of us turned to other things to discuss. The author seems to be stuck in a bit of a writer’s cramp on bashing the USPS and people… like me… who work in all kinds of weather and difficult working conditions at times to get the mail and parcels delivered. This Mr Cuntsman can’t seem to write about anything else. You’d think his mailman kicked his dog or something?

    I swear, the author has so many articles slamming the USPS, I’d think they have a vested interest in UPS or FedEx. I suppose if I were a big-shot in the USPS instead of a letter carrier, I’d declare those congested metro areas as too costly and too unsafe to deliver. For this, the USPS should require ALL businesses and residences in the area to either get their mail at a PO box, or erect some cluster box units where there is adequate parking where both the USPS can safely and efficiently deliver the mail, and the patrons can safely retrieve their mail.

    This would seem like a sensible and workable solution, but then… those patrons would squall and bawl about it and write their senators and congresspeople just because they would have to go a few blocks to get their mail.

  • AMH

    Priorities, I guess.

  • Nathan

    I’ve already stated in so many terms, we’re too weak in how we run the ship. Is that my fault or problem?? NOPE. Not much I can do seeing I have had long routes my entire career and also help others who are also “weak” and state they can’t do it. I have a clean driving record, but if you have it too bad, you can always put your application in to the USPS and give it a try if you feel it’s a much easier side of the fence.

  • Nathan

    I agree firmly on scaling back to 5 day delivery , and yeah we have to still do packages on the weekends as that is the new trend in the markets. I would also argue, even though our union is too stubborn, that we could get away with 4 day ten hour days carrying mail on Monday Tuesday and Thursday and Friday. Wednesday and Weekends no mail. Packages flowing 7 days a week. It’s going greener and also reducing wear and tear and the vehicle fleet and people won’t be so inclined to get irritated with too many days of bulk rate mail to contend with. Everyone in this country will get used to it within 6 months. It also shows signs of strength for our union when going to the table to collectively bargain.

  • Joe R.

    4-day work weeks are a great thing for lots of reasons. You save 20% on carfare. You save 20% on time commuting to work. You get one more day a week off. I don’t know why unions aren’t all over the concept. Heck, I don’t know why employees in general aren’t all over the concept. You could do the same with schools. We should move towards Friday or Monday being the third day of the weekend. I think people would be happier and healthier for it. And nobody will miss two days a week of regular mail delivery. This week I didn’t even get any mail for three days in a row. There are days I only get one or two pieces of mail. It’s fine by me if we consolidate that so my normal mail volume is compressed into 4 days instead of 6.

    Getting packages 7 days a week would be good thing. That seems to be an emerging trend anyway. Amazon already has Sunday delivery.

  • Mr Postman

    “Which is also breaking the law, and frankly reads a bit like the justifications for lynchings.”

    Well, I’d be willing to bet if YOUR granddaughter was raped or murdered, you’d be the first in line for revenge if that option was available to you. I know I would.

  • J C

    “Well, I’d be willing to bet if YOUR granddaughter was raped or murdered, you’d be the first in line for revenge if that option was available to you. I know I would.”

    Well, it’s hypothetical. But I like think not.

  • Alex Stull

    I didn’t say it was easier at all. Matter of fact was not talking about labor at all. I was talking about the companies inability to discipline the offenders because of the union. I was not knocking your job or hating on mine. I personally love it.

  • Alex Stull

    Amazon is by far the worst. But like you were saying. As big as the companies that we work for there are gonna be a certain percentage of accidents and it would absolutely make sense that the post office would have to most simply for the fact more drivers more stops more miles.

  • calm down, sir

  • Nathan

    That is why I dropped out of the union for a year. They are too weak minded and it just typically results in us losing money. I have been in it for most of my longer career. Without them, our pay gets gutted in half more then likely. About 25% of the workforce needs to pack their bags and go find a desk job in my opinion. No more room for slackers in the USPS. Now if we can just break away from goofy Congress who makes it harder for the USPS to run an actual business to profitability , that would make me much happier.

  • Ryan Morris

    Id number is literally at top of sliding door and on front above windshield…nice try

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