Uber Has No Duty to Protect Drivers from Criminal Acts, Judge Finds

On Tuesday, a federal court ruled on a negligence claim brought by two plaintiffs representing the estate of an Uber driver who was killed in 2020 by two passengers in a botched carjacking. Judge Barbara J. Rothstein found that because the plaintiffs failed to show that the sequence of events leading to the driver’s death was foreseeable and that the ride-hailing company had a duty of care, Uber was entitled to summary judgment.

The opinion explained that on December 13, 2020, two assailants, non-parties dismissed from the action earlier this year, used a fake Uber account to hail a ride in Issaquah, Wash. The driver accepted the request, arrived at the pick-up location, and was found deceased in his vehicle minutes afterwards. Reportedly, he had multiple stab wounds and his car had crashed into a tree.

Judge Rothstein noted that the assailants have been charged but have not yet been tried. The plaintiffs sued Uber alleging its negligence caused the driver’s wrongful death. 

The 15-page opinion first acknowledged that under Washington tort law a private person does not have a duty to protect others from the criminal acts of third parties subject to several exceptions.

Over the plaintiffs’ argument that Uber has a “special relationship” with its drivers, the court said that “none of the existing special relationships recognized in Washington fit this context, and any relationship recognized in this case would involve cobbling together elements of selective precedent.” As such, the court declined to “venture into ‘uncharted waters’” and find a special relationship between Uber and its drivers. 

Judge Rothstein weighed the plaintiffs’ alternative theory that Uber’s affirmative misfeasance created the circumstances that enabled the assailants to commit the murder. Reading the plaintiffs’ claims as “failure to eliminate a risk,” the opinion said that Washington courts only view the doctrine as applicable in “exceptionally compelling circumstances,” not present in the current case.

As to whether the driver’s killing was foreseeable such that Uber should have anticipated the act, the court ruled that the plaintiffs fell short of meeting the evidentiary standard. Though they showed that Uber was aware of an increase in carjackings in 2020, that evidence did not lead to the conclusion that a carjacking, let alone murder, was foreseeable, the opinion said.

The plaintiffs are represented by Weinstein Caggiano PLLC and Corrie Yackulic Law Firm PLLC and Uber by Perkins Coie LLP.