Blind Uber Passenger Wins Legal Case
April 15, 2021 | Commercial Litigation & Class Actions
An arbitror ordered the ridesharing company to pay Lisa Irving $1.1 million to compensate her for the economic and noneconomic damages she sustained when drivers repeatedly refused to give her rides.
After about a dozen Uber drivers either refused to pick her up or otherwise harassed her, Irving said she felt “demeaned, humiliated, devalued, embarrassed, angered, frustrated and violated.”
The company argued that since its drivers are independent contractors, it was not responsible if they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act or similar laws.
The arbiter disagreed, ruling that “[w]hether its drivers are employees or independent contractors, Uber is nonetheless subject to the ADA as a result of its contractual relationship with its drivers.”
Ridesharing Legal Responsibilities
Federal accessibility laws require public transportation providers, like ridesharing companies and airlines, to accommodate disabled passengers, even if such accommodation inconveniences the provider. Only some people are entitled to such protection, and there are some exceptions.
The Civil Rights Act and other accessibility laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, apply to people in protected classes. These classifications vary in different laws. They generally include:
- National origin,
- Disability, and
- Sexual orientation.
The Supreme Court recently broadened “sexual orientation” to include most LGBTQ individuals. These protections also apply in other access situations, such as employment and education.
Business necessity is the largest exception.
If the defendant proves it cannot offer an accommodation for a business reason, mostly high cost, the plaintiff might not be entitled to compensation.
Note that there’s a big difference between unable to offer and unwilling to offer.
For example, the Department of Transportation recently authorized airlines to ban Emotional Support Animals. Disability advocates will most likely challenge this rule, which bureaucrats approved in the waning days of the Trump Administration, in court.
Taxi companies, ridesharing companies, airlines, and other public transportation entities have other legal responsibilities as well.
For example, in most states, these providers are common carriers who have a duty to safely deliver passengers from Point A to Point B. These laws usually protect everyone, and there are normally no exceptions.
The duty of care is two-fold. First, drivers must use extra caution on the road. For example, most drivers have a duty to slow down when it rains.
Arguably, ridesharing operators have a duty to pull over and stop during heavy rain, even if that delay costs them money.
Additionally, these companies must ensure personal safety during transit. That means breaking up arguments before they become violent and ensuring that the aisle is free from fall-causing debris.
Essentially, an arbitration is a private trial. The arbiter acts like a judge, but s/he is not elected and only has power over the parties to a dispute.
Furthermore, arbitrations are not public and there is no court reporter or other official record.
Some advocates have criticized arbitration proceedings, especially when it comes to matters like sexual harassment or discrimination against disabled individuals.
Specifically, advocates criticize mandatory arbitration clauses and hidden arbitration clauses. As the name implies, individuals must agree to mandatory clauses.
Hidden clauses usually state that by using the website or credit card, or by getting into an Uber, the person agrees to arbitrate future disputes.
Voluntary arbitration, however, is a different matter. New York personal injury attorneys frequently take advantage of this forum. Arbitration is much faster and less complex than a jury trial.
Calculating Damages in a Personal Injury Claim
$1.1 million in a case like this sounds like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money. But Uber earned $11.4 billion in 2020 alone.
If a company makes that much money, only a very large monetary award captures its attention and forces it to change the way it does business.
The company would probably ignore a lower verdict and write it off as part of the cost of doing business.
The damage calculation in a personal injury claim always includes compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Economic damages are normally straightforward. However, this calculation often requires more than just simple addition.
A settlement must also account for future lost wages and medical bills, if any. It’s very difficult to reopen a closed case, so a lawyer basically has one chance to get this calculation right.
Noneconomic and punitive damages are more complicated still. Emotional distress and other noneconomic damages are usually available in all cases.
To determine a fair amount, attorneys usually multiply the economic losses by two, three, or four, mostly depending on the facts of the case.
This figure serves as a starting point for settlement negotiations. Punitive damages often depend on both the facts of the case and the amount needed to exact change, as outlined above.
Injury victims can be entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We have offices nationwide.
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