Ride sharing service Uber is in a fight with the State of Maryland and is threatening to pull its service from that state, based on new requirements regarding background searches for drivers. While this sounds like a regulatory squabble, under the surface, the issue may be Uber’s liability for damages or crimes caused by its drivers.
Uber and Liability
Uber is a ride-sharing service the allows private drivers to offer rides to people much like taxi drivers do, and get a share of the fee. Uber has been in a precarious legal position over whether it is liable for crimes caused by its drivers.
As a general rule, an employer has vicarious liability for actions conducted by its employees, and to some degree, by its contractors. For example, if a Fedex truck negligently causes an accident, Fedex is liable, not just the individual driver. If an employee of a business attacks you, the business may be liable for that employee’s actions.
Certainly, crimes are intentional acts, and an employee that commits a crime is not usually acting under the direction of the employer. But the law generally puts a duty on employers to properly screen new employees to make sure they are not dangerous.
So, if a company does a background check that comes up clean, and that employee then commits a crime, the company may not be liable.
If the company fails to conduct a check, and the employee commits a crime, the company could be liable, even when the employee committed an intentional, criminal act. If a check is conducted and the employee commits a crime, the company could be liable, as well. Many companies prefer to be “willfully blind” to an employee’s background, to avoid the allegation that they had actual knowledge of an employee’s dangerous propensities, but ignored that information.
Uber Fighting New Proposal
The new Uber law in Maryland proposes to require fingerprinting and background checks on Uber drivers. Uber does conduct public record searches on potential drivers, but does not go beyond that. Uber is resisting the new requirement, saying their current check system is comprehensive enough.
But the fact is that the more investigation Uber does into a driver’s background, the more grounds there may be to hold them legally responsible for a driver’s actions. By doing the expanded searches, if they are ultimately required, Uber now can be seen as having actual or constructive knowledge that a driver may be a risk to passengers.
How much “bad” information in an employee background check would be needed to hold Uber liable if the driver commits a crime? That is a vague and undecided issue, leaving the company open to risk.
The fight will continue, and the law has not passed yet. But it is important to remember the negligence and liability issues that underlie Uber’s resistance to the proposals. These issues arise in negligence injury cases every day.
If you are injured as a result of a criminal act, you may have a civil action to recover for your damages. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.