Uber has found itself in some legal trouble again. Before it was about licensing and states determining whether or not it was a taxi company or an online service company as it claimed. (So far, regulators have tended to determine they are a service company that connects customers with service providers). However, this time the question turns on applying old school negligence and respondeat superior laws to new technology.
Website, The Verge, reports that an Uber driver in San Francisco hit and killed a pedestrian. Logic would say that the driver is liable, and general legal knowledge says Uber would be as well since the driver had just finished dropping off a customer. But here's the difference between old school legal logic and our modern world. A California statute passed specifically for "ride sharing services", like Uber, carve out a liability issue related to whether or not the driver was engaged in providing a ride or on the way to pick up a fare. Uber claims neither happened in this situation since the driver had just dropped off a fare and had not yet accepted another one through the Uber app. Therefore, Uber claims that he wasn't technically operating his car in furtherance of Uber business. The Plaintiff's lawyer, of course, disagrees.
While this case is very interesting in determining where an employer's liability stops and starts in this new industry of ride sharing, the more important concept is making sure businesses understand their liability when employees get into accidents.
Employers need to understand their liability when an employee does something wrong. Let's hit a few of the basics without getting too specific...for that you'd need a lawyer.
The basics go something like this... Employers are responsible for harm committed by their employees if that harm occurs when the employee is acting within the scope of their employment. Things can get complicated when the question is related to the "acting within the scope of employment" language. Courts have pretty well established, though, that if an employee is doing something work related and something bad happens because of their actions, both they and their employer can be held legally responsible.
Why is it important to know this?
If you're a business owner, you need to have sufficient liability insurance to cover not only the bad things that might go wrong, but also the bad, crazy, or stupid things your employees might do while at work that causes harm to someone. Companies that operate services involving driving (delivery services, livery services, etc.) know this well and make sure they are covered. All companies, however, need to consider the fact that at any moment their employee could do something negligent that causes harm to another person and be prepared to deal with the fallout.
You also need to have internal rules and regulations in place, listed in an employee handbook, and posted, that will help prevent problems and accidents from occurring in the first place. This is a case where the phrase, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.