Court of Appeal Agrees With Altair Law Granting a Reversal on Uber Dooring Case06/09/2022an Altair Law Blog post by Jeremy Cloyd
Our attorneys have extensive experience pursuing claims against rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber for issues including negligent driving and sexual assaults. Altair Law partners Joshua White and Kevin Morrison recently obtained a notable victory in the Court of Appeal concerning an Uber driver’s failure to use reasonable care in selecting a place to offload passengers.
The case arose when an Uber driver answered a late-night request to take four college students from a bar to a hotel in downtown San Francisco. Although the hotel featured a driveway for offloading passengers, the Uber driver chose to offload his passengers on the street. When one of the rear passengers opened the car’s door into oncoming traffic, the door struck the leg of sanitation worker William Mason, who was standing on the rear of a passing garbage truck, forcing him from the truck onto the roadway. Mason sustained life-threatening injuries that required multiple surgeries.
Mason alleged the Uber driver should have used reasonable care in selecting a drop-off location. However, the San Francisco Superior Court sided with Uber and found that “a defendant who lawfully parks his car on the side of a street is not liable for damage occurring when his guest opens the car door into the path of oncoming traffic.” In other words, the court held that California law does not require rideshare drivers to use reasonable care when offloading passengers.
Altair Law attorneys Joshua White and Kevin Morrison believed that the court had framed the issue incorrectly. The question was not whether Uber’s driver had a “duty to control his passenger” but instead whether the driver had a duty to use reasonable care to avoid offloading passengers in a place where they could expose others to an unreasonable risk of harm.
The California Supreme Court had previously issued a decision in Lugtu v. California Highway Patrol (2001) 26 Cal.4th 703 that is particularly instructive on this point. In Lugtu, a CHP officer stopped the plaintiffs’ vehicle “in the 10-foot-wide, asphalt-surfaced center median” of a highway in order to issue a traffic citation. (Lugtu, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 707, 709–710.) During the traffic stop, a truck in the lane adjacent to the median drifted off the roadway and crashed into the plaintiffs’ vehicle. (Id. at pp. 708–709.) The plaintiffs sued the truck driver and the CHP for their resulting injuries. (Id. at p. 709.) In light of these facts, Lugtu held that “a police officer who exercises his … authority to direct another person … to stop at …a particular location, owes such a person a duty to use reasonable care in giving that direction, so as not to ... expose the person to an unreasonable risk of harm.” (Lugtu, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 717.)
Altair Law brought Mr. Mason’s case to the Court of Appeal to ensure his right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeal agreed with Altair’s lawyers that under California law the Uber driver “owed a general duty to exercise due care in offloading passengers, and whether he breached that duty is a question of fact.” The Court of Appeal cited the general rule in California that “everyone is responsible…for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person…” Civil Code § 1714.
The Court of Appeal found the following factors persuasive: the foreseeability that passengers exiting a rideshare vehicle will be distracted and unfamiliar with locations to which they have been taken; the rideshare driver’s awareness of the type of risks posed by offloading; the likelihood that injury would occur if reasonable precautions are not taken; and the interests of preventing future harm are best served by a policy requiring drivers to exercise due care.
A copy of the Court of Appeal’s complete unpublished opinion can be read here.
Jeremy Cloyd is a partner at Altair Law, located in San Francisco, California. Jeremy represents victims of construction site negligence, medical malpractice, police misconduct, government claims, dangerous property, on-the-job injuries, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, gas explosions, auto accidents including Polaris RZR product defect injury cases, dog bites, dangerous property, wrongful death, and amputations.
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