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?