• June 8, 2017

Update (June 8, 2017): In the lawsuit brought anonymously against Uber for a sexual assault, discussed below, “Ms. Doe” has voluntarily dismissed her lawsuit against Uber “without prejudice” (meaning that she keeps the right to bring a subsequent lawsuit based on the same allegations).

Original post (June 5, 2017): Social change may be like an approaching hurricane or a tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake. We see the dangers coming. But there is little we can do in the short time before landfall.

The so-called “gig economy” has been economically transformational in the United States and worldwide. There are many, however, who argue that it has been transformational in a bad way.

Enter Uber. Isn’t there something inherently dangerous about a business model that includes thousands of mobile transient workers (not full-time, not even considered employees) who interact with vulnerable strangers, sometimes in isolated and precarious situations? If your answer is “yes,” who should be held liable when the generally foreseeable but specifically unpredictable disaster strikes?

A young woman alleges that she was attacked and sexually assaulted by an Uber driver in Minnesota in August, 2016.  Anonymously, she has filed a lawsuit against Uber due to her alleged assault. (She originally brought the lawsuit in California but the U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of California, William H. Orrick, III, granted Uber’s motion to transfer the lawsuit to Minnesota, where the alleged attack occurred.)

Setting aside the forum fight, the question of whether Uber, the company, should be held liable for alleged wrongdoing of its drivers, is a difficult question. Many of us will disagree as to what the answer should be.

In fact, “Ms. Doe” apparently decided to sue Uber in California rather than her home turf because of a supposedly “favorable respondeat superior ruling in a different Northern District case.” Fortunately for her, the Plaintiff might well still benefit from favorable law under the so-called “Ferens doctrine,” — a rule that the “transferee court” (here, the Minnesota court) must apply the choice-of-law rules of the “transferor court” (here, the California court).

The Doe v. Uber lawsuit is in its infancy. Stay tuned. But regardless of the outcome of this particular case, there is no question that our new “gig economy” — the uprooting of labor, the rise of the transient worker — will sharply increase dangers that had been mitigated by far longer-term, stronger, deeper connections between traditional employers and their workers.


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