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Rideshare Regulation: An Emerging Legal Dilemma

*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.

Credit: Unsplash - Thought Catalog

The Rideshare transportation and gig-economy network is an emerging legal dilemma with limited judicial precedent and governmental regulation, despite the issue’s embedded influence on American society. Within the past few years, this emerging area of law has had scholars and litigators ponder how to address new areas of liability, workers’ rights, and passengers’ rights. This article addresses the pending laws and litigation addressing passenger and driver safety and rights in the ride-hailing, software-based Rideshare Companies. Laws And Regulations That Protect Passengers:

The Uber and Lyft Transportation Network Companies (“TNC”) have dominated the global transportation rideshare, app-based market. These innovative companies use smartphone applications to connect riders and drivers. Many are asking: What is the liability between the Rideshare company, their contracted drivers, and their passengers? The answer to this question is particularly murky regarding passenger safety and preventing sexual assault.

The Background of Sexual Assault Cases in The Transporation Network

Every year, dozens of passengers in the United States have been “kidnapped, sexually assaulted, sexually battered, raped, falsely imprisoned, stalked, harassed, or otherwise attacked by Uber drivers with whom they had been paired through the Uber application,” according to Adam Slater of Slater, Schulman, LLP. Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault on these rides provided by strangers. Andrew Pestano addressed the issue, “[S]ince Uber launched in 2010, thousands of female passengers have endured unlawful conduct by their Uber drivers including rape, sexual assault, physical violence and gender-motivated harassment.” In October 2016, a Florida Uber driver picked up two female passengers and sexually assaulted and raped one of them. In June 2022, Uber’s US Safety Report reported 3,824 alleged sexual assault incidents in 2019 and 2020. In comparison, Lyft’s Community Safety Report acknowledged 4,158 incidents from 2017 to 2019. In 2020, the companies shared data on driver deactivation resulting from sexual assaults a year after pledging. Yet, Uber’s safety reports failed to address the assaults after passengers reached their destinations. Nor did Uber or Lyft honor the 2021 pledge to release the names of abusive drivers.

Regulation of Their Business Models

The application process to become an Uber driver is streamlined and straightforward. Uber conducts third-party background checks on applicants that lack uniformity, vary regionally, and often cover up to a mere seven years prior to the application. The Uber and Lyft companies have rider protection options such as adding cameras, authorizing more thorough background checks, creating a license vetting processes, and addressing logo-sticker misuse. In December 2021, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a decision requiring rideshare companies to develop measures to prevent sexual assaults.

Uber was required to provide specific instances of sexual assault and harassment arising from Uber’s passenger services. Nevertheless, rider protections have a long way to go. Recently, the San Francisco County Transporation Authority Supervisor and Chair, Rafael Mandelman, noted that, “The CPUC’s action to standardize how Uber and Lyft are supposed to protect passengers from sexual assault and harassment is way overdue.” Adam Slater indicated, however, that “Uber’s whole business model is predicated on giving people a safe ride home, but rider safety was never their concern – growth was at the expense of their passengers’ safety, and the response to the issue has been slow and inadequate, with horrific consequences.”

Recent Litigation and Liability

Without quick enforcement of Rideshare legislation, victims of driver sexual assaults have sued the TNCs under different theories of liability and failed. This year, five passengers have sued Uber for alleged sexual assaults while Uber and Lyft compete for improved safety models. In 2021, a female passenger sued in the Southern District of New York, alleging Uber’s liability for its drivers. Doe v. Uber Technologoies, Inc., 551 F.Supp.3d 341 (S.D.N.Y. 2021). The passenger alleged Uber’s negligence under (1) a common carrier theory, (2) a screening, hiring, and supervising theory, (3) infliction of emotional distress, and (4) negligent misrepresentation of their safety models. Id. All theories failed because Uber lacks a “special relationship” (employer-employee) and duty to protect passengers from “third-party” assaults. Id. At 357-358.

Even more recently, passengers lured into vehicles and assaulted by individuals posing as Uber drivers have sought atonement in California Courts. In the summer of 2022, female passengers abducted and sexually assaulted by unauthorized Uber drivers alleged Uber’s failure to warn or implement passenger and app-user protections. Jane Doe No. 1 v. Uber Technologies, Inc., 79 Cal.App.5th 410 (2022) California Law requires a “special relationship” between Uber and unauthorized third-party drivers and a “heightened duty of care” between Uber and Uber passengers to demonstrate a sufficient carrier-passenger relationship. Id. at 419-420. The plaintiffs, however, failed to show that Uber had a duty to protect. Id. at 421-422. With a new case pending in the Northern District Court of California as of July 2022, TNC’s liability to passengers for their business models, safety measures, and authorized and disqualified drivers remains in dispute. See Doe v. Uber Techs., Inc., No. 19-CV-03310-JSC, 2022 WL 2267568 (N.D. Cal. 2022).


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