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Miami, FL Law Blog for Entertainment Law, Business Law, and Public Interest

Saturday, June 13, 2015

These Drivers can be Uber Dangerous

Recently we have seen quite a buzz on unique “taxi” companies such as Uber and Lyft all around the United States. These companies are based on smartphone apps that allow anyone in need of a ride to post their location and nearby drivers who have signed up for Uber and Lyft will come and pick you up and drive you where you want to go for less money than a taxi would charge.  The problem is that these drivers are not regulated, no special licensure is required, and there is no fingerprint background check.  What riders do not consider is that these drivers could be anybody, including dangerous criminals, rapists, psycho killers, etc. 

This new “service” flies in the face of what we have all been taught as little kids – “Never, never, never, get in a car with a stranger.”  Children are cautioned that a molester or kidnapper might drive up in a car and say “come here little girl/boy, do you want some candy?” Or, “come over here and see this cute little puppy.”  Children are cautioned to run because once you get in that car, you are their prisoner and they can take you to a desolate area and do horrible things to you and even kill you.  Now the lure of candy and puppies has transformed into the lure of saving a few dollars on cab fare.   It is analogous to electronic hitchhiking.  You have no idea who is picking you up. There is no doubt that if one were to ask a victim of a horrific kidnapping/rape if they had it to do all over again would they place more importance on saving a few bucks ahead of their safety, their answer would be obvious.  They would gladly have paid a thousand times that amount to never have gone through that. 

In cities across the world, drivers have sexually harassed and even raped victims, as well as hit and killed children.  The crimes are egregious and indisputable. But the question remains, is Uber legally responsible for them? Its terms of service warns riders, “You expressly waive and release the company from any and all any liability… arising from or in any way related to the third party transportation provider.” That caveat hasn’t stopped victims from issuing lawsuits and entire countries banning the app entirely; however, the argument that the business has no connection with its employees’ abuses appears patently disingenuous.

Houston 

Just last month yet another incident happened in Houston, Texas, where an Uber driver picked up a drunk female passenger and raped her. 

Chicago

On November 16, a Chicago woman was reportedly raped by a driver who asked her to sit in the front of his car because he was “unfamiliar with the area,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Uber has removed the driver from its service and is complying with the city police.

Los Angeles

Similarly, a female student at the University of Southern California was raped by an Uber driver.

Both Los Angeles and San Francisco are suing Uber for misrepresenting the quality of its background checks, especially in light of the company’s added $1 “Safe Rides fee” that tout its driver screening. Uber’s process is actually “completely worthless,” argued San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. Lyft, an app-based car company that is weathering regulation better than its larger, more aggressive competitor, recently settled the suit for $500,000.

San Francisco

Roberto Chicas, a San Francisco bartender, may lose vision in an eye over an UberX ride after the driver took a hammer to his passenger’s face during a dispute in September. “There’s no doubt that the trail of liability leads back to Uber’s doorstep,” said Harry Stern, the victim’s lawyer, who plans to sue the company. “We believe they should pay.”

Nevada

In November, Uber suspended operations in the state of Nevada after a judge granted the state’s request to block the company, successfully arguing that drivers’ Uber-enabled ability to use their personal cars to carry paid passengers goes against the rights of taxi companies. “I’m not going to risk the safety of the public,” said Judge Scott Freeman.

London, U.K.

A London woman was offered $31 in Uber credit after her driver “asked me if I wanted him to go down on me,” Newsweek discovered. “I feel that people really trust the Uber name (as I do) and my trust was completely violated,” the woman said.

New Delhi, India

Delhi driver Shiv Kumar Yadav picked up a 26-year-old woman in his Uber car, but instead of bringing her home, Yadav drove her to a secluded area and raped her. According to police, the driver later confessed to the crime. After a storm of bad press, the government “banned Uber to provide any transport related service in Delhi,” the state government announced. Mumbai and Hyderabad are joining in on the ban, as well.

Spain

A judge in Spain laid a temporary ban on Uber, accusing the company of "unfair competition” following a complaint from the Madrid Taxi Association. Drivers Drivers "lack the administrative authorization to carry out the job,” the ruling reads. Yet the company maintains it is "still operating" in the country, reports the BBC.

There are numerous countries where Uber is being outlawed. But the company’s website tells a different story, toting its services in 52 countries, including many that supposedly ban it.

 No meaningful Background Checks

Although these drivers receive a very basic screening, no one can know how safe or trustworthy they are. It is very easy for a dangerous criminal to change his name or steal a new social security number.  In contrast to Uber or Lyft drivers, legitimate taxi drivers undergo FBI fingerprint and background checks.  Their license and photograph are posted on the dashboard, and the industry is heavily regulated. 

Particularly in Miami, these companies have been in the spotlight due to the protests taking place by local taxi drivers and even police who are furious that these drivers are diverting business from legitimate taxi drivers and are putting the public at great risk.  It is certain that we will soon be seeing lawsuits against Uber, Lyft, and other such companies for negligent hiring and retention and other causes of action, and it is likely that municipalities and states will begin enacting laws to regulate these companies and enforcing existing laws that regulate taxi drivers.  In most areas of the country, there are already laws in place that place stiff fines on drivers if they are caught acting as a taxi without a license.  It is also anticipated that police may soon set up stings to catch these illegal drivers.  Until then, all we can do is remember the valuable lessons that our parents taught us.  Don’t accept rides from strangers. 

 


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