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Judge: Jury should decide if Uber can be liable for crash

January 27, 2020 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A jury should determine whether Uber ought to be held responsible for a passenger’s injuries, a federal judge in Rhode Island ruled.

A U.S. District Court judge concluded Jan. 16 that jurors should determine whether driver Claudette Issa is considered an employee of Uber — potentially making the company liable — or an independent contractor, as Uber contends, the Providence Journal reported Sunday.

In a 2017 lawsuit filed against Uber, passenger Lokeshwaran Narayanasamy, of Virginia, accuses Issa of negligence for colliding with an “abandoned” Toyota on Route 37 in Warwick while driving from the airport.

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Narayanasamy suffered serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, that have caused physical and emotional pain and hurt his ability to work, he and his family allege in the suit.

Uber argues it is merely a software provider and cannot be held liable for Issa’s alleged negligence in the 2017 crash.

The suit names Uber, a subsidiary company and Issa, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, as defendants. Uber and the subsidiary are accused of negligence in the training and hiring of Issa.

“We’re very, very confident that a jury will determine that drivers are in fact employees,” Narayanasamy’s attorney, Joseph Marasco said Sunday. Marasco argues that Uber maintains an employer-employee relationship with its drivers because the company controls the finances and unilaterally determines the fares.

A spokesperson for Uber declined to comment to the Providence Journal on Sunday. The company, in court papers, has cited technology services agreements signed by Issa and other drivers to support its position that they are independent contractors and not employees.

The Associated Press sent an email to Issa’s attorney Monday.

The question of how Uber classifies drivers has been raised in numerous states.

New Jersey is seeking $650 million in unpaid unemployment and disability taxes, contesting that Uber drivers are independent contractors, not employees.