The share economy liability issue impacts Uber

It seems inevitable the Uber has and will continue to generate some pretty bad press related to the New Year’s Eve death of a six year old girl. The girl died and her siblings were injured when they were struck by an UberX driver. UberX is Uber’s peer-to-peer ride sharing service akin to Lyft or Sidecar.

In the past I’ve written about liability in the share economy, particularly as it’s applied to peer-to-peer car sharing. In this case, Uber is claiming that since there was no fare ongoing during the accident, it’s not liable. The driver was, however, logged into the Uber app which is the only way for UberX drivers to locate passengers. It’s the rough equivalent of the radio dispatch systems that one finds in a typical cab. Except it gives them a map of the city and the location of those seeking rides.

Uber may or may not win the lawsuit, though from a public perception perspective, Uber’s position is coming off as self-serving. I can’t vouch for Uber but I hear from Lyft drivers that they do have actual shifts. One would think that the operators have to engage in some sort of driver scheduling to ensure that the supply of drivers on the street is neither too much nor too little. Which sounds an awful lot like a shift.

Beyond the semantics of what being “on the clock” means, should Uber lose the suit I’d expect insurance rates to go up for these companies across the board. This was inevitable as the legal system sorts out the question of liability in the share economy. Unfortunately, Uber’s fighting of the lawsuit has already left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

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Adam Lesser

Cleantech Curator Gigaom Research

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