Uber not liable for driver attacking passenger, but plaintiff can amend claim

By Charmaine Little | Aug 10, 2018

PHILADELPHIA - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted ridesharing service Uber Technologies, Inc.'s motion to dismiss a lawsuit in which a passenger accused one of Uber's drivers of attacking him, according to a July 27 opinion written by U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg.

Although it ruled in favor of Uber, the court did say in the opinion that plaintiff Joseph Fusco may amend his negligent hiring, fraud, and misrepresentation claims against Uber.

Fusco also filed vicarious liability claims against Uber, claiming it should share the blame for the alleged assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery.

Fusco filed the lawsuit after he allegedly requested an Uber ride from a private party in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to his home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. 

Judge Mitchell Goldberg   Wikipedia

Because Uber's policy does not allow passengers’ destinations to be revealed until the beginning of the ride, the ruling said the Uber driver didn’t know where Fusco was going until he got into the car.

The court said Uber drivers are also not allowed to refuse to give rides once the passenger reveals the destination, but Fusco's driver refused to take him to Cherry  Hill from Pennsylvania.

After he continued to ask the driver to take him home, the driver allegedly physically removed Fusco from the car, threw him on the concrete and assaulted him until Fusco was unconscious. Fusco suffered broken bones and teeth.

In response to Fusco's negligent hiring, retention and supervision claims, Uber said he did not provide proof that the driver had issues in the past about which Uber would have known before deciding to hire the driver.

The district court agreed and said Fusco’s claim that the driver was simply unqualified was not enough to let the claim stand as presented.

In defense of the common law fraud, negligent misrepresentation and statutory consumer fraud claims, Uber said the claims should be dismissed because the company never falsified its brand. Goldberg said in the opinion that the statements Fusco claimed were fraudulent can be classified as sales talk. The court said Fusco would not be able to prove in court that the representations in question were fraudulent.

Meanwhile, Uber challenged the assault allegations and said those claims did not fall within the driver’s “scope of employment,” according to the opinion.

While Fusco argued that Uber could have predicted that the incident would occur, the district court ruled that acts done out of “private malice” are not legally classified as falling within the scope of employment.

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