The Uber Shooting Case & Fighting Arbitration

Attorney Rod Dixon describes a case where an Uber Eats delivery driver shot and killed a man outside of his own home. The rideshare company tried to avoid our client’s case going to court.

Backstory: Earlier in the year, another Uber driver shot multiple passengers of his vehicle, killing one, after a dispute in an Atlanta gas station. With a surprising and tragic rise in violent incidents involving rideshare drivers, it’s important to be aware of your responsibilities and rights as a passenger. Even without completely reading the terms and conditions of a rideshare company, by checking the box and using their services you are tied to their arbitration clause.

We’ll discuss why big companies favor arbitration over a juried court, and why that may not always be in their favor. Attorney Dixon breaks down details of our client’s case that explain why victims of rideshare driver assault, battery, or accidents may be able to have their cases judged by a jury of their peers.

We hope you’ll NEVER be involved in a rideshare accident or assault victim, and encourage you to stay informed about the legalities of rideshare violence. We’ll continue to seek justice for those who are tragically affected by these incidents, anywhere in Georgia!

 

Transcript from Episode 3, For Justice’s Sake Podcast

Renee Cooper 

Thanks for tuning in to For Justice’s Sake hosted by the Dixon Firm in Atlanta, Georgia. Today’s episode is about rideshare accidents, incidents, and lawsuits. My name is Renee Cooper.

 

Rod Dixon 

And I’m Rod Dixon.

 

Renee Cooper 

First, we have a little bit of backstory: In June, an Uber driver shot his passengers after an argument arose in his car. One passenger was killed, and one was in critical condition. There have been similar cases each year, including a rideshare case in 2018, involving an Uber Eats driver, shooting and killing a customer at his home. So my first question is, should we call these Uber accidents or rideshare accidents? What’s the best way to categorize an incident like a shooting or assault involved with a rideshare driver?

 

Rod Dixon 

I think the best way to categorize it is just as you indicated a rideshare assault or rideshare battery–the law might call it that there are obviously rideshare accidents that occur where you’re in a rideshare. And one car hits another car, and it’s a truly accidental situation. But in a situation like this, the driver of the rideshare vehicle is committing an act, an intentional act of violence against a customer or against a patron, or someone who is outside the vehicle even. And so we would call these rideshare assaults because there’s nothing accidental about a driver who pulls a gun or a knife on someone or physically assaults them.

 

Renee Cooper 

So in these cases, both of them involved Uber, but is Uber or the rideshare company responsible for drivers’ aggressive actions?

 

Rod Dixon 

Well, that’s where the law can get a little murky, especially for the layperson. So Uber Lyft, all of these rideshare companies that exist, even the delivery companies that exist, attempt to categorize their drivers as independent contractors. And they do that because under the law, the company is not legally responsible for the acts of an independent contractor. The independent contractor is just that, in theory, independent. And so he or she is responsible for his or her own actions.

 

Rod Dixon 

So you have the independent contractor status that these rideshare companies attempt to push with the drivers. And to some degree that works for them. And to another degree it doesn’t, because the companies are also responsible for vetting these drivers. In other words, they can’t allow someone to drive for them who, for example, in Georgia does not pass a legally required background check. And so there are circumstances where the company, the rideshare company, even though they want to categorize these drivers as independent, can be responsible for their bad acts, even their violent bad acts in a situation where the background check was not appropriate, or in other certain circumstances. So just because the independent contractor aspect out there exists doesn’t mean the rideshare company is completely off the hook for any and everything that happens.

 

Renee Cooper 

The word arbitration comes up with a lot of big company cases like this one. What exactly does arbitration mean?

 

Rod Dixon 

Well, arbitration means you’re screwed… No. I shouldn’t say that. But I say it anyway. No, arbitration is a process where parties who are in conflict, go to someone to decide who should win that conflict, who should prevail in that conflict. The issue with arbitrations is that–and why I say it’s not necessarily good for the consumer, it can be but it’s not necessarily good for the consumer–is because the arbitrators exist here. And the big companies exist here. And the big companies are the ones who typically will pay the arbitrators. And so with you, the one person who is hurt–if we understand human nature, we kind of think the arbitrator may tend to favor the company that’s paying him and that’s going to hire him over and over again, rather than the one person who will be before this arbitrator only once in his or her lifetime. And the companies, the rideshare companies and other companies in this country are more and more pushing arbitration because they feel like they have better control over the arbitrators and that the arbitrators may award when they do award money may award less than a jury.

 

Rod Dixon 

Everyone who signs up for a rideshare company ostensibly agrees to be bound by arbitration, rather than being able to pursue their case. In court. Uber has recently decided that sexual assault victims can pursue their cases in court, in other words, that they won’t attempt to enforce their arbitration agreements against sexual assault victims. Curiously enough, they have not made such a decision with respect to people who have been shot, or stabbed, and killed by their drivers. And so maybe that’s coming. But for now, rideshare companies still insist that those victims of shootings or stabbings still must go through arbitration to pursue their claims.

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Renee Cooper 

Wow. It’s very interesting, no one really has time to read that full contract when they’re really just trying to order food or get a ride. But it’s really important because that’s, that’s listed in there.

 

Rod Dixon 

It’s listed in there. It’s the terms and conditions. It’s a link that no one clicks. But I will warn you, though, even though no one clicks that, that that doesn’t mean you don’t have some responsibility there. And so that’s a little bit deeper than we need to get into right now, but be cognizant of the terms and conditions when you sign up not just for a rideshare company, but for any company. When you utilize any company’s app, be conscious of the fact that there are potentially terms and conditions that you’re agreeing to.

 

Renee Cooper 

Yeah, we could probably do an entire podcast on that topic. But sort of similarly, one of our clients actually just won to Georgia appeals case, some of the details kind of tie back into those terms and conditions, do you have insight on why this is such a big deal?

 

Rod Dixon 

If you’re a victim of an accident, a car accident victim of a crime, and you have a case to pursue, you probably want to pursue that case in court, where you will have a jury of your peers determine whether the defendant is responsible for your injuries. On the other hand, if you’re a big corporation, you would rather probably rather not have a jury of the victim’s peers and your peers as well. But you would probably rather not have a jury decide that issue for you. Because you believe that an arbitrator is going to be more favorable to you. Now, I will say that doesn’t necessarily play out in real life, because what we tend to see are jurors and juries who are fair and appropriate to both parties under the circumstances. But the reality is our Constitution, and the Seventh Amendment to our Constitution guarantees us the right to a trial by jury and the forefathers, the founders of this country put that right into the constitution for a reason. That’s because it is the best-known system that has existed in human history for settling disputes.

And so as a trial lawyer, we fight to protect the right to trial by jury because we believe it is a fundamental right of American citizenship. That’s why this fight that we have at the Court of Appeals is important. That’s why when we see situations involving arbitration clauses, we don’t just bow down and say yes, that’s the way it’s going to go. We fight for our clients and their right to present their cases to a jury.

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Renee Cooper 

Can you kind of go into a little bit of details, what the case entailed, and why it kind of worked in our favor in this case, and our client’s favor in this case?

 

Rod Dixon 

Our client was shot and killed by an Uber Eats delivery driver without provocation. And we brought a lawsuit, even though there was this arbitration clause that we knew the rideshare company was going to point to. We brought a case in court, in state court here in Georgia, asserting our client’s rights to a trial by jury, and the rideshare company did not like that, did not agree with it, and sought to have the case sent to arbitration. Well, at this point, we were able to prevail in the court of appeals and had the Court of Appeals say that our client deserved to present his case to a jury. We are continuing that fight. But that’s the immediate, immediate impact of our fight for a jury trial for our client and that circumstance.

 

Renee Cooper 

What allowed our client to be able to kind of fight that arbitration clause?

 

Rod Dixon 

Well, basically, the Court of Appeals determined that in signing up for the rideshare service that there was, and I don’t want to get too deep into the minutiae of the law– But there’s an issue of fact as to whether our client actually agreed to the terms and conditions in signing up for the rideshare application.

 

Rod Dixon 

To give you a little, little bit of the facts when you go into at least at the time, when you go into the app, and you sign up at the bottom of the page of the screen, there’s a link to terms and conditions, well, prior to the bottom of the page, you have to input your credit card. And so if you put inputs or credit card, then the link to the terms and conditions is covered by the keyboard. And so how can you say someone agreed to the terms and conditions, when they linked to the terms and conditions was covered by the keyboard? That’s basically why our client now has the right to present his case in court, because the terms and conditions link probably wasn’t visible to him.

 

Renee Cooper 

Wow! Could that set a precedent for anybody who possibly could have a case around that same time?

 

Rod Dixon 

The answer to that is maybe. But I will tell you that the rideshare company, Uber, in this case, has now changed how the terms and conditions are presented. And you actually have to agree to the terms and conditions before you actually input your credit card information. And so there is now no problem with the keyboard covering it.

 

Renee Cooper 

Right. I mean, that is always the case, when something kind of falls through, it’s time for them to relook at even just the UI of their platform.

 

Rod Dixon 

Well, and that raises the broader, broader topic of why we do what we do as Injury Lawyers, as trial lawyers. The cynical view is that we’re out for money. And obviously, when we are talking about damages and holding a defendant accountable, we are talking about money in the immediate effect. But in the long term effect, a lot of what we do has an impact on how things operate in society generally. And so what can happen in one case, where a victim receives compensation can have an impact in millions of cases, or potential cases or circumstances. And this one case could actually serve to prevent other injuries and other situations down the line.

 

Renee Cooper 

Obviously, a shooting or assault is very tragic, but how would somebody move forward with seeing if they have a case? If something like this happens to them or a family member or friend?

 

Rod Dixon 

Yeah, I think the first thing to do when you have the ability to do it, is to contact a lawyer and just talk it through. There are circumstances where someone who does this type of work like myself will say, you know, I hear you I’m sorry that you went through this, but there is no legal remedy. There’s nothing the law can do for you. The civil side of the law. But then there are circumstances that may be complicated may require some thought, some creativity, where we say, Hey, we can take a deeper look at this. And maybe we can come up with a way to help because what happened in this circumstance is a tragedy. And this type of thing should not happen to somebody else. Where we see a circumstance where we say this should not happen to somebody else, That’s what we jump in and say, let’s go to work.

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Renee Cooper 

Okay, awesome. Wow, this is really good timing. This has been really good information so far. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @Dixonfirm to continue this conversation or ask us any questions. You can also join our email list for podcast updates when we go live. And for a chance to win a $50 restaurant gift card with we gave one away last month so they’re really excited about that. If you have a case of referrals or consultation requests, click the link in our bio which is underneath the podcast below, or visit Dixonfirm.com or you can call our shiny new phone number which is 888-DIXON-11 which is 888-349-6611. It kind of has a ring to it so you know spread that around if you have any questions about a lawsuit or anything that we do here.

 

Rod Dixon 

After you call 9-1-1, call Dixon-11!

 

Renee Cooper 

Step one, call 911 step two, call Dixon-11! We’re gonna work on it. You guys tell us what you guys think. All right, so thanks as always for listening and continue to stay safe and healthy. We’ll talk to you next month.

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