Can UBER be sued? How? Procedure? For which acts can UBER be sued?

Can UBER be sued? How? Procedure? For which acts can UBER be sued?

Author: Mr. Harshal Sreen, Institute of Law, Nirma University.

1. Introduction

Every day, individuals are injured while on the premises of a business or using the services of the service provider. Injured individuals may be able to pursue a personal injury lawsuit and recover for the damages that they suffer. It is the responsibility of businesses to ensure that their customers are treated with care at all times. If a customer gets mistreated in some way or form and filing a complaint against it has led to nowhere, then justice must be served against the business.

A corporation can be sued for both civil and criminal liability. A corporation cannot simply escape from any of its liability. Initially, corporations were not held criminally liable for corporate activities as a corporation was considered to be a fictitious legal entity incapable of forming the requisite men’s rea necessary for the commission of a crime. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected this notion in 1909 in New York Central & Hudson River Railroad v. U.S,[1] but with the development in the law, this perspective was changed in “Lennard’s Carrying Co Ltd v Asiatic Petroleum Co Ltd,[2] which is a famous decision by the House of Lords on the ability to impose liability upon a corporation.

1.1 Criminal liability –

A corporation is considered as a separate legal entity. A corporation is an entity, something that exists only through its employees. A corporation can be vicariously liable for the criminal liability of its employees. If a criminal act by the employee is within the “scope of employment” and as long as and their conduct benefits the corporation it would be held liable. A corporation cannot be imprisoned or punished like individuals. However, there are ways to punish a corporation, such as Heavy fines, loss of business license, regulation by government agencies, etc. The board of directors, officers, and other high-ranking officials will almost always be criminally liable as well.

Courts in India did not punish corporations as they felt that essential ingredient ie. Mens rea is absent incorporation. However, due to such concept, many legal difficulties started arising which was noticed by the Law Commission in its 41st report of Law Commission of India. this concept changed in a landmark case of Standard Chartered Bank & Ors. v. Directorate of Enforcement,[3] the bank was prosecuted for violation of provisions of the FERA,1973 where the SC did not go by the strict penal provisions and held that a corporation can be held liable regardless of the mandatory punishment as under the statue.

1.2 Civil Liability –

Civil liability is the obligation to compensate for bodily injury or tangible or intangible damage that may be caused to a third party by the company’s belongings or staff, over the course of work completed. Liability will arise from either an individual committing an act or its wrongful omission. But in certain cases directors can also be simultaneously liable as he authorized the wrongful act or omission.

What Types of Lawsuits Can Be Initiated Against a Company?

Even as an individual, you can sue a company for a wide variety of reasons. It also depends upon the nature of the business of the company. The most common types of lawsuits against companies include product liability, personal injury, breach of contract, violation of federal law, false advertising; discrimination, sexual harassment, and tax fraud. Corporations can be sued for almost every act for which humans can be sued. Corporations are considered as a separate legal identity. In some circumstances, the company may be legally responsible for harm caused by its employees. The general legal theory that is used in cases involving employer liability for employees is “respondeat superior.” This legal theory means “let the master answer.”

Instances of lawsuit against UBER –

·        Personal injury claim

Most personal injury lawsuits that are filed against businesses are on the basis of negligence. If the business did not provide a safe environment to customers and the customer becomes injured as a result, the customer might be able to seek recovery for the damages that they suffered.

  • Sexual harassment

UBER sued for $10 million by a woman who was sexually assaulted by her driver. A resident of Washington, DC, sued UBER for negligence and consumer protection violations after she was sexually assaulted by one of the \company’s drivers. Last year, CNN reported that at least 103 UBER drivers in the US had been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers over a period of four years.

·        Lack of services –

Although UBER has launched a program for people with disabilities to use the car-hailing service, the program is not available in all the markets in which UBER operates. Two people who use wheelchairs have filed a lawsuit against UBER alleging that UBER has violated unfair competition law and the California Disabled Persons Act. According to the suit, the two plaintiffs are unable to use UBER because the company doesn’t enable them to request cars that are accessible to people with wheelchairs.

·        Class action lawsuits

The initial case, O’Connor v. UBER, was first brought by a group of UBER drivers. Drivers for the company argued that they are UBER employees, not independent contractors, and are therefore entitled to expenses and wage protections. By classifying drivers as contractors, UBER avoids providing benefits of traditional employment such as health insurance, paid sick time, and workers’ compensation. UBER’s proposed settlement sees drivers receive a payout for expenses, but will not change their status as independent contractors. The original lawsuit involved some 385,000 drivers.

Can UBER be sued?

As mentioned earlier any corporation can be sued. It is evident from the aforesaid cases, where the aggrieved parties have sued the UBER for several injuries and losses. But per UBER policy for the negligence of the incidents pertaining to accidents or any act by the UBER driver it may not be held liable. Uber itself does not provide any transportation services and uber is not a transportation carrier. Uber only acts as an intermediary between the customer and the transportation provider.

According to the Terms & Conditions mentioned on the websites of Uber and other such companies, the transportation services qualities requested through Uber is entirely the responsibility of the vehicle operator or provider. Uber only acts as an intermediate between the vehicle provider and the customer. Uber is not the employers, the drivers are not their employees. They are independent contractors.

In the case of O’Connor v. UBER, it was argued by the drivers that they should be considered as UBER employees and not independent contractors. If passengers need to file a lawsuit, the target of the suit would be the at-fault driver – not Uber. The company classifies them as independent contractors, arguing they are in business for themselves.

US court passed an order in the favour of UBER corporation stating the employees as independent contractors -“Applying the common-law agency test as explicated in SuperShuttle DFW, Inc.,[4] we conclude that the drivers were independent contractors.”- held by the National Labor Relations Board. According to the agency, Uber drivers set their working hours, own their cars, and are free to work for Uber’s competitors, and hence cannot be considered employees under federal law.

However, the UK court has delivered the judgment in the favour of drivers. In the UK the judges have dismissed Uber’s appeal against a landmark employment tribunal ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers with access to the minimum wage and paid holidays. By a 2-1 majority decision UK employment court has ruled in a landmark case that Uber drivers are not self-employed and should be paid the “national living wage”.

Conclusion

There has been a spike in complaints of alleged harassment and several other incidents by app-based cab drivers. The law pertaining to whether the drivers of UBER are employees or independent contractors is very vague as it is not ubiquitously similar in different countries. The law concerned with this issue in each of the countries. But in India Just because these companies did not have headquarters it should not be difficult to hold them accountable for crimes committed by their drivers.

Judiciary in India is yet to decide about this issue, they have taken recommendations from the countries like the UK, the US, it’s up to the judiciary which recommendations they opt to deal with this issue in India. It is necessary to have some regulatory framework for the companies running these services. Making app-based cab service companies accountable for offences committed by their drivers will help reduce these offences. Once such guidelines and regulations are in place, they will benefit the consumer, act as a deterrent against bad behavior and also create greater confidence in their business.

 


[1] [1971] UKHL 1.

[2] (1915)AC 705

[3] A.I.R. 2005 S.C. 2622.

[4] 367 NLRB No. 75 (Jan. 25, 2019)

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