We have previously discussed various legal hurdles in suing Uber or other “ride share” services, such as Lyft. Also, Uber and its competitors have been in the news in that New York City is considering limiting their expansion for a number of reasons, such as an increase in Manhattan traffic and competition to the yellow cab industry.
From the viewpoint of the injured person, can Uber be held liable along with its driver?
Thus far, the courts have protected car services from suit on the basis that car services merely arrange the ride. The vehicle owner and operator have the liability for an accident. The exception is where the car service owns the vehicle.
Consider the following scenario which is based, in part, on an actual incident.
Bob Cummins, an established investment banker, calls Uber to drive him home. The Uber driver, who owns his car, picks-up Cummins and drives along the West Side Highway. The driver is speeding, and he collides with a barrier. The collision injures Cummins who dies later at the hospital. It is clear that the driver was negligent. Also, the driver had a series of moving violations prior to joining Uber. He also had some moving violations after joining Uber. However, his limo license was in good standing. Cummins’s family brings a lawsuit against both the owner/operator and Uber. Cummins’s estate claims that the vehicle was operated in a negligent manner. Furthermore, the estate claims that Uber should be responsible for negligent hiring and retention of a dangerous driver. The owner/operator’s insurance limits are $100,000. In view of the large earnings loss, this is inadequate. Therefore, a claim against Uber would determine if the family would receive just compensation for the loss of its breadwinner.
Under the foregoing facts, Uber would seek dismissal. It would claim that it merely arranges the ride and collects and shares in the fee with the driver. It also would claim it neither owned nor operated the deadly vehicle. Therefore, Uber would urge that it not be liable for the accident.
This defense has been tested before in the courts with neighborhood car services which operate along the same lines as Uber. The neighborhood car service, such as Flatbush Call-A-Car, merely arranges the ride, and it neither owns nor operates the vehicle which is owned by the driver.
Therefore, it would not be liable with its negligent driver. Furthermore, Flatbush Call-A-Car has no assets; the drivers own their cars. However, in comparison, Uber, a multi-billion dollar company, has assets worth pursuing. We believe that in view of Uber’s increased business, the courts may revisit this defense. The public has the impression that Uber, an international company, stands behind each vehicle.
In the future the courts may hold Uber liable for negligent hiring, retention, and supervision. Further, we believe that the TLC will impose greater insurance limits on Uber cars in order to protect the public.
We foresee interesting litigation in the future regarding Uber and other phone app. car services.