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July 8, 2024

New York Trial Court Finds Uber Is Not Vicariously Liable for Driver's Negligence

In Bongiovi v. Pulla, et al.,i the plaintiff sought damages for injuries allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident involving another vehicle carrying an Uber passenger. In his deposition testimony, the defendant driver confirmed he had a passenger in his vehicle that he had acquired through the Uber app. In addition to the driver, the plaintiff brought suit against Uber Technologies, Inc. and Uber USA, LLC (Uber).

Uber moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of all claims and cross-claims made against it. Uber argued the defendant driver was not an Uber employee, so it had no control of him and could not be held liable for his conduct. Uber explained that its business was “developing and maintaining digital multi-sided marketplace platforms,” which connects individuals, business, etc. with drivers. In New York City, Uber sublicenses its driver app to third-party providers licensed by the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC). When a driver in New York City signs up to drive using the Uber driver app, they must provide proof they comply with TLC requirements. However, they do not complete an employment application, attend an interview, or undergo training with Uber. Instead, Uber drivers must electronically accept and enter into a Platform Access Agreement, which states the driver is not an employee of Uber, and it is not intended to create a joint partnership, joint venture, or any other business relationship. 

Based on the facts and documents Uber submitted, and applying prior case law, the trial court determined Uber and the driver did not have an employer-employee relationship. The court further observed additional factors that established no employer-employee relationship with Uber existed. The driver: 

  • Was able to set his own schedule
  • Was able to take breaks whenever he wished
  • Had no minimum or maximum hourly requirement 
  • Had complete control over which riders he accepted and transported using his own vehicle
  • Could and did work for other employers, including competitors 
  • Received a 1099 from Uber not a W-2

As freelance work and the gig economy continue to grow, this case serves as a reminder that companies such as Uber, DoorDash, TaskRabbit, etc. serve only as a conduit for independent contractors to find customers and will likely not be liable for the individuals who use their platforms. It also outlines factors for companies who routinely use independent contractors in their business to adhere to in these relationships to avoid potential liability for the contractors’ actions.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Matthew Larkin, Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area chair, at mlarkin@barclaydamon.com; C. J. Englert, associate, at cenglert@barclaydamon.com; or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.
                                                                                          

i2024 NY Slip Op 50653(U).
 

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