NEW ORLEANS (Louisiana Record) – A lawsuit filed earlier this year by more than two dozen cab drivers against UberX drivers is unique as Uber lawsuits go, but isn't unique to Louisiana, a labor law professor said recently.
"Louisiana is certainly not unique with these lawsuits," Miriam Cherry, a labor law professor at Saint Louis University in Missouri, told the Louisiana Record. "Many other cities have faced challenges when attempting to regulate Uber and the ride-sharing services associated with it. At least initially, Uber branded itself as part of the 'sharing economy' and as a software company, so their argument was that traditional laws regulating taxi services did not apply to them."
Uber is finding a great many believe those traditional laws do apply to the ride-sharing company. In 2015 alone, 50 lawsuits were filed by contract drivers, competitors and customers against Uber in federal court. Uber's nearest competitor, Lyft, faces only a third as many lawsuits filed against it in federal court during the same period.
In January, Lyft agreed to a $12.25 million settlement in the class-action lawsuit Cotter vs Lyft Inc., filed on Sept. 3, 2013 in U.S. District Court for California's Northern District, San Francisco Division. In that case, California Lyft drivers alleged they were employees and not independent contractors, and sought to have that designation recognized by the court.
The Cotter case is one of several lawsuits scrutinizing shared economy businesses that rely on independent contractors to provide a variety of services, not just hailing rides.
"It can be very hard to keep up with all the different lawsuits," Cherry said. "It's different companies, different services and different issues."
In terms of sheer volume of lawsuits it faces, Uber clearly leads the way.
The Uber case garnering the most attention is O’Connor et al v. Uber Technologies, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and scheduled to begin trial June 20. First filed in Aug. 16, 2013, the case was certified as a class action in December 2015. U.S. District Court Judge Judge Edward Chen is considering an Uber motion to dismiss filed with the court last week.
Though not attracting as much national attention, the New Orlean's lawsuit is unique because Uber is not the named defendant, Cherry said.
"Interestingly, the plaintiffs in this case are suing the Uber drivers directly, rather than Uber," she said. "I'm not really sure of this strategy, since normally if you think a company policy is wrong, you would sue the company directly, not its employees, unless the employees were engaged in intentional wrongdoing, perhaps. My guess is that the drivers would probably turn to Uber to indemnify them or mount a defense."
UberX began offering ride-sharing services in New Orleans last spring after Mayor Mitch Landrieu approved regulations that applied to UberX. Local cab drivers quickly objected to the competition, and the lawsuit was filed in January.
"If these defendants -- Uber -- wins, then it means that this group cannot press them for damages any longer," Cherry said.
"I'm not sure it resolves the question of whether a taxi company or any governmental entity would be able to enforce safety requirements on Uber."
Lyft began operating in New Orleans earlier this month.