More Trouble for Uber?

Passengers of the ride share app Uber filed a class action lawsuit against the company in a federal court in San Francisco just before Christmas. The lawsuit claims that passengers should not be required to pay a $1 “Safe Rides Fee” that Uber adds to each ride. The fee is purportedly to support a safety program that was said to be “industry leading,” and more rigorous than that required for taxi drivers. The Complaint alleges that these assertions are misleading and/or false, and seeks restitution for the fee collected from the 140 million rides Uber serviced last year.

The lawsuit filed over the “Safe Rides Fee” is only the most recent of Uber’s many legal troubles. Two other class action lawsuits have been filed against the company, one by cab companies and one by its own drivers. In addition, riders have filed lawsuits over extra fees charged for service at San Francisco International Airport and Boston’s Logan International Airport. These actions allege that the fees are nothing more than extra revenue for Uber since they are not paid to the airports as required by law.

THE CONTROVERSY OVER UBER’S BACKGROUND CHECKS

The screening of Uber’s drivers has been a source of contention worldwide. After a passenger was raped in India (and Uber’s business was shut down in the country as a result), and one was assaulted in Boston, the background checks received greater scrutiny. The “Safe Rides Fee” was added in April ostensibly to pay for a safety program which included enhanced background checks, driver training and vehicle inspections.

However, the background checks do not include fingerprinting. Without fingerprinting, there can be no proof of identity–no way to prove that the person being investigated and the person driving the car are one and the same. Furthermore, without fingerprints, a criminal background check cannot be run. The idea that the “Safe Rides Fee” was paying for a safe ride was a misperception at best.

CONSUMER PROTECTION AND THE SHARING ECONOMY

Los Angeles and San Francisco District Attorneys decided to take action and filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Uber. (Lyft, another ride share company, settled similar claims, agreeing to change its marketing language, pay fees and restitution.) The basis of the lawsuit against Uber is: (1) the untrue or misleading statements regarding the strength of its background checks and the fees for those checks; (2) its illegal operation at California airports and fraudulently charging airport fees to riders that did not get paid to the airport; and (3) calculating fares without going through proper state agencies.

Like the private class action lawsuit over the “Safe Rides Fee,” the consumer protection lawsuit seeks to stop Uber from saying its background checks are “industry leading” by requesting an injunction against that language (and resultant misperception), and it seeks restitution of the fees that were fraudulently charged.

Uber, like other members of the burgeoning Sharing Economy, staunchly defends its status as a platform to connect service providers with people looking for the services, and refuses all references to it as an employer. This business model has its obvious attractions. But as recent events have shown, it has its limitations as well. Uber distances itself from drivers and cars, emphasizing that the drivers are not employees and the cars are not corporate property. At the same time, however, Uber promises and charges for the safety of both through a program that it claims was a leader in the industry but in reality lacked the basic step of ensuring the identity of the person whose background was investigated. The consumer protection lawsuit aims to make the public aware of the deficits in Uber’s program. It would be even better if Uber changed the program to become “industry leading.”

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you have been a passenger with Uber and paid a “Safe Rides Fee” or an airport service fee, or if you have had an unsafe experience with Uber, contact your Atlanta criminal law attorneys at Pak & McRae Law Firm, LLC. 

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Pak & McRae Law

At Pak and McRae Law, LLC we provide straightforward, sincere criminal defense for local, state, and federal matters. Our team includes a former Assistant District Attorney, so we understand how prosecutors approach cases and will use those insights to benefit your case.

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