Uber Defeats Driver’s Wrongful Death Lawsuit–Drammeh v. Uber
Ceesay, an Uber driver, picked up 2 passengers who allegedly murdered him so they could steal his car. A story about the tragedy. The passengers allegedly created a “fake” Uber account using a prepaid cellphone and gift cards. The estate sued Uber for negligence. Uber wins on summary judgment.
Negligence. Uber challenges the existence of a special relationship with the driver. The court says this principle is essentially co-extensive with premises liability, which does not apply to Uber:
the place in which Ceesay was attacked—his car—was not a “worksite” over which Uber “retained” control. Even if Uber had provided the car to Ceesay, it could not control Ceesay’s safety in the same way a general contractor can control a tract of private property. Given the constantly changing nature of a car’s environment and passengers, it is not analogous to a worksite….Uber’s role is not sufficiently supervisory to impose on it the degree of responsibility that a special relationship requires
With respect to Uber’s (allegedly inadequate) safety protocols, the court says:
Even if it were conclusively shown at trial that the risk of carjackings would have been reduced if Defendants had implemented the measures demanded by Plaintiffs, it still would not follow that Defendants created the risk
Finally, the court says the carjacking wasn’t foreseeable:
[the] data does not suggest a statistically significant connection between fake or anonymous accounts and carjacking….Plaintiffs’ statistical evidence may show Uber was aware of an increase in carjackings in 2020, but that does not mean a carjacking was foreseeable in this case….Plaintiffs were required to show that it was foreseeable the Assailants would use the Uber app to commit a carjacking and murder Ceesay
This case brought to mind the June ruling in Doe v. Uber, involving the rape of a passenger by a driver who pretended to be working for Uber. In that case, the court also rejected the existence of a special relationship (that time, to the passenger rather than the driver). The Doe court also rejected that Uber created the risk.
More generally, both opinions reject plaintiffs’ efforts to second-guess Uber’s safety measures. Like any other business, Uber always could do more to protect the safety of its drivers and passengers. Perhaps it should. However, in both the Doe case and this case, the primary wrongdoers are individuals committing horrible crimes–and their intervening tortious behavior likely cuts off any but-for causation that might be attributed to Uber.
This case might have qualified for Section 230 because, at its core, the complaint seeks to hold Uber liable for the messaging between and matching of the driver and passengers. Nevertheless, the court doesn’t mention 230 at all (Uber rarely, if ever, invokes it), so this ruling is yet another example of a defense win without relying on Section 230.