An anonymous female passenger, Jane Doe, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles on September 26, 2017. In May 2017, Doe endured sexual harassment and false imprisonment while riding with Uber driver “Sam.” The driver allegedly implied Doe looked like a whore, told Doe she has “white girl issues,” and made her say “I am young, dumb, and full of cum.”
The driver allegedly took a wrong turn to keep Doe in the car for 10 to 15 minutes longer than necessary.
Who is responsible for Jane Doe’s traumatic ride?
Doe argues throughout the lawsuit that Uber is responsible for the driver’s bad acts. She gives a detailed list of bad acts committed by other drivers around the world.
- A driver kidnapped and sexually assaulted a woman in West Hollywood.
- A San Antonio driver raped a passenger.
- A Chicago driver fondled a passenger’s groin and breasts.
- A Paris driver forced a passenger to perform oral sex.
- A New Delhi driver raped and brutally beat a passenger.
This disturbing list goes on and on.
Doe’s argument is simple: Uber was on notice! Because the company knew that its drivers were behaving badly, it had a duty to make sure that new drivers were not also predators.
Employers can be held responsible for injury or damage caused by an employee under the doctrine of vicarious liability. If Doe met the driver while she was at a club, she could only hold the driver accountable for his actions. However, because she encountered him in his capacity as a driver for Uber, she can sue his employer for her pain.
Doe claims the company cared more about their bottom line than customer safety. And less expensive, less comprehensive background checks put passengers at risk.
Lawyers use recent court decisions to support this claim.
Uber drivers are paid as independent contractors, not employees. The doctrine of vicarious liability generally does not apply to independent contractors. In cases like this, courts determine an employees classification by looking at some different factors.
In 2015, a California court found that Uber drivers have an employer-employee relationship with the company even though they are classified as independent contractors.
This case law could serve as “the missing link” (so to speak) for this case. Plaintiffs cannot collect damages under the doctrine of vicarious liability unless they can establish the employer-employee relationship.
Lawyers need to be able to say “hey, Judge, another court thinks this, you should think it too!” Even one case can show a judge that the law is moving in a new direction.
Because one court has already found that the required relationship exists between Uber and its drivers, this court may feel more comfortable finding it in this case as well.
This case is pretty bad for Uber.
The complaint is well written. Every imaginable claim is included. And it looks like California will likely find the employer-employee relationship exists.
Further, Uber is probably drowning in legal bills at this point. One has to imagine how much it can shell out before the company runs out of money.
Finally, I had no idea that so many passengers have been assaulted, raped, and kidnapped. I’ll likely think twice before I choose Uber over a taxi next time I need a ride. And I’m sure I’m not the only passenger who will think twice next time either.
*UPDATE* A second Jane Doe filed a lawsuit against Uber in Los Angeles on September 26 for substantially similar reasons. The new Doe was subjected to unwelcome fondling of her breasts in June 2017. Uber told her to “do whatever you want about the incident.”