An Uber driver got into an argument with wet riders who called for a ride from Adventure Island that resulted in the driver firing his gun while on the job. The Uber driver now claims that the discharge was “accidental.” Discharging a firearm in public is a crime in Florida under section 768.15, Fla. Stat. The assumption is that the Uber driver objected to the riders getting in his car while they were wet from the water park.
This incident raises two questions. 1-Can an Uber driver refuse service to a rider? 2-Is Uber legally responsible under Florida law if a driver shoots a passenger?
Uber Drivers Refusing Customers
Ridesharing services in Florida will be subject to a new statute (section 627.748, Fla Stat.) in Florida beginning July 1, 2017 and are called “transportation network companies” or “TNC.” The statute says nothing about refusing riders, however, Uber may “deactivate” a driver who refuses passengers and you may receive a refund. This policy may create a problem for anyone wanting to ride with Uber and it may just be bad practice in general. However, the bigger issue is with the discharge of the gun.
Uber’s Responsibility For A Driver’s Actions
One of the inherent problems with Uber is that people are using their own cars to transport people for money. Taxi-cab drivers typically don’t maintain their own cars and aren’t picky about carrying people. If the interior of the car gets scratched with normal wear and tear, no one typically cares. However, things are different when it’s a person’s own car.
As this leads to fights between Uber drivers and riders, we need to ask the question of who is legally responsible when there is a fight. To answer this question, generally speaking an employer has traditionally been legally responsible for anything their employees do while in the course and scope of employment. This is called “respondeat superior” by lawyers.
This is the way that it should be because employers are in the best position to control their employees. However, ridesharing services (now TNC’s) are different in that they do not “employ” their drivers. Instead, they are “independent contractors” for which there is no legal responsibility outside of what the TNC has established as minimum financial responsibility in the event of an accident.
Taxi-cab drivers were typically considered “common carriers” in Florida for which there was an elevated duty of care. If a taxi-cab driver attacked a passenger, then the taxi-cab company would not get off the hook for the attack by saying that the driver went outside the course and scope of employment by committing an intentional tort (the attack). This was because a common carrier had almost a duty of strict liability to ensure the safety of their passengers.
When Uber and other ridesharing services came along, they attempted to avoid legal responsibility in the event that a driver commits a criminal offense against a passenger with the assertion that they are not legally responsible for the actions of their independent contractor drivers. This business model of using independent contractors did not require these companies to cover accidents even though they did to gain approval to operate in various cities and jurisdictions. Without agreeing to be responsible for accidents, the cities and counties where ridesharing is available would never have been allowed.
However, in doing so, these governments forgot about making Uber and other companies legally responsible for things beyond mistakes on the roadway. The mandatory insurance provided in section 627.748, Fla. Stat. will only cover “automobile claims.”
Not A “Common Carrier” By Statute
Specifically, transportation network companies are not “common carriers” in the eyes of the law and they have no duty to ensure the safety of passengers beyond car accidents and ensuring that they only hire “qualified” drivers. This is where the Florida Legislature went totally wrong in allowing TNC’s to operate not as common carriers.
Uber and other ridesharing companies would have covered any liabilities for drivers as “common carriers” under an umbrella insurance policy. This would have covered not just violent crimes and sexual assaults but would have also covered injuries getting into and out of cars.
So What Should I Do If Something Bad Happens To Me By An Uber Driver?
Since your choice of legal remedies is limited, it is critical to say the right things at the right time when making a claim against Uber or a ridesharing service. Once you have said something that hurts your case, you may not be able to change it later after knowing how the system works.
Uber has its lawyers working for them before something happens to limit when they are responsible. Your claim may need to encompass a failure to properly qualify a driver for service or a failure to establish a rule for drivers or passengers. Remember that Uber created its own rules for behavior for passengers and drivers. These rules may not be adequate for your situation. This is where you may need the help of a personal injury attorney who is not afraid to challenge the business model of the large ridesharing companies.
Contact A Lakeland Personal Injury Attorney For Help
Ridesharing companies have been allowed to skirt laws that have been in existence for a long time. To protect your rights after something bad has happened in an Uber vehicle, a personal injury attorney can help you determine the proper legal avenues for your claim and how to properly bring your claim. Contact us today to schedule your free case review.
Uber Driver accidentally discharged gun at Adventure Island Water Park during argument w/ 2 brothers that wanted to get into his car wet. pic.twitter.com/XgeVseMckX
— FOX 13 Tampa Bay (@FOX13News) June 25, 2017