There is no doubt that ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have surged in popularity in recent years. Uber was founded in 2009, while Lyft came along in 2012. These companies serve a useful purpose – affordable transportation at the hands of your fingertips. Across the world, people use ridesharing companies to get from Point A to Point B. Ridesharing can satisfy all of one’s transportation needs – taking people to dinner, sporting events, and even to and from work each day.
When people open the Uber or Lyft app and select a ride, they trust they will be in good hands when they get inside the vehicle. After recent events, getting to a destination without an accident is no longer the top concern. Recent lawsuits have alleged Uber drivers sexually assaulted female passengers. In light of these reports, it is natural to consider whether ridesharing companies do enough to prevent these crimes in the first place, and whether they can face legal liability for their drivers’ actions.
Typically, employers are held responsible for acts of employees committed in the course and scope of employment. For instance, if you were rear-ended by an Uber driver who was transporting a passenger, Uber’s liability policy would likely pay for your losses. This legal principle of respondeat superior may not directly apply in the context of an assault. For starters, sexual assault is an intentional act, in contrast to a negligent act such as running a stop sign. Similarly, abusing a passenger does not fall within the course and scope of employment, which is to transport a passenger to their final destination. Further, Uber is notorious for classifying drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. While the employer’s determination is not determinative, additional factors must be considered.