Tort Law

Judge rejects Uber's independent-contractor argument in sexual assault tort claim

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Women who claim that Uber drivers sexually assaulted them can go forward with their tort claim against the company, a San Francisco federal judge ruled this week.

The court denied Uber’s motion to dismiss the case on the basis that the drivers in question were independent contractors, the Recorder reports. One, Abderrahim Dakiri of Boston, was convicted in February of assault and battery, according to the article. Kidnapping and sexual assault charges against the other driver in question, Patrick Aiello, are pending in Charleston, South Carolina.

The order (PDF) by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston mentions two pending class actions against Uber, regarding whether drivers should be classified as employees instead of contractors. In April, the Pasadena-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal granted an Uber motion to appeal a lower court order certifying the class, Ars Technica reports.

“It may be that facts will ultimately be revealed that disprove plaintiffs’ allegations or that tilt the scales toward a finding that Uber drivers are independent contractors,” Illston’s order reads. “However, taking the allegations in the amended complaint as true, plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts that an employment relationship may plausibly exist.”

Plaintiffs in the tort claim also alleged negligent hiring, citing evidence that Aiello had a 2003 assault conviction Uber missed in his background check. Uber described the conviction as a “12-year-old disorderly-persons offense that could have been expunged,” according to Illston’s order. She denied Uber’s motion to dismiss the negligent hiring claim in regards to Aiello, but granted it for Dakiri, because the plaintiffs did not present evidence that there was anything in his background that should have prevented him from driving for Uber.

Uber recently settled another class action, regarding driver wages and tips. The agreement, which according to the Recorder gave drivers at least $84 million, did not change the company’s definition of the drivers’ status as independent contractors.

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