The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulates privately owned public utilities in the state of California. On September 19, 2013, California became the first state to regulate Transportation Network Companies (TNC), such as Uber Technologies and Lyft. In 2017, the CPUC reinforced the use of criminal national background checks for prospective drivers to ensure consumer safety. A TNC driver is to undergo a background check prior to being hired and the TNC is required to repeat this process at least once a year.
- Sexual offenses (includes being listed on the National Sex Offender Registry database);
- Acts of terror;
- A violent felony;
- Within the last seven years, misdemeanor assault or battery, domestic violence, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or any specified list of felonies
The new law takes a stab (no pun intended) at expanding its safety measures by requiring TNCs to provide the passenger with additional information via the ridesharing application upon being matched with a ride. Passengers are now entitled to know the driver’s first name, have access to a photo of the driver, an image of the make and model of the vehicle, and the license plate number. This allows the passenger to screen the driver prior to entering the vehicle. Additionally, it aims to prevent a passenger from entering the wrong vehicle as in the case of a Los Angeles woman who was sexually assaulted by a man who posed as a rideshare driver.
Inevitably, California courts have been tackling both civil and criminal cases concerning ridesharing companies and their drivers. Although new legislation seeks to deter passengers from being fooled by rideshare posers, there have been a number of incidents in which mistaken identity was not the issue at hand.
In John Christopher Burget, et al. v. Uber Technologies, Inc., et al., the plaintiffs alleged that the Uber driver grew violent when she was asked to turn down the music in the vehicle. The driver allegedly refused to let the plaintiffs out of the vehicle prompting the passengers to call 911. Once 911 was called, the driver made several attempts to run the passengers over with her vehicle. One of the causes of action against Uber was negligent hiring and/or supervision of the driver.
There were several complex motions the presiding Judge Benny C. Osorio ruled on. The defendants filed a motion to stay the action and all discovery arguing that due to Plaintiff’s 911 call the Uber driver was wrongfully arrested and as a result may face criminal prosecution. Judge Osorio denied the motion based on the driver’s lack of standing to invoke the privilege against self-incrimination since there was no showing that there was an ongoing criminal investigation based upon facts of the current case.
The driver further moved to strike alleged facts concerning the driver’s attempt to kill Plaintiff’s process server with a softball bat including statements inferring that she is a violent and unstable person. Judge Osorio granted the motion to strike the alleged facts concerning the driver’s attempt to harm the process server since the incident was not relevant to the issues at hand. Moreover, the judge determined that the statements concerning the driver’s violent nature was conclusory yet relevant. The motion to strike was granted with leave to amend, allowing the plaintiff to provide further factual information. The case is currently in the discovery phase pending a trial.
In Shayan Fadaee v. Uber Technologies, Inc., et al., the plaintiff and his girlfriend used the ridesharing application to find a ride home. The plaintiff alleged that the Uber driver started a conversation about different religions and turned violent upon learning the religious affiliation of the plaintiff. The driver allegedly pulled over on the freeway and asked the plaintiff and his girlfriend to get out of the vehicle. When they refused, the Uber driver exited the freeway, pulled into a 7–11 parking lot and stabbed the plaintiff.
The most current ruling by Judge Yolanda Orozco in this case was concerning Uber’s petition to compel arbitration. Uber’s petition was based on the plaintiff’s express agreement to arbitrate claims arising out of the use of the Uber’s Mobile Software Application. The judge granted Uber’s petition to compel arbitration based on Uber’s proof that a valid arbitration agreement existed. The court scheduled a Status Conference in early May.
The effects of legislation
Unfortunately, these cases came to fruition despite the existing laws regulating TNCs. How will this new law affect the legal arena? Although the expansion of the law is a promising step towards consumer safety, California courts will likely stay occupied determining cases involving TNCs. The law cannot foresee the propensity for violence of a TNC driver notwithstanding a clean criminal record. Furthermore, the odds of a personal injury lawyer handling an influx of automobile accident cases concerning TNC drivers are high.