Ninth Circuit Certifies Questions Regarding Uber’s Duties to Customer Safety

The facts of this case are awful:

In August 2018, Plaintiff Jane Doe requested that her boyfriend call her an Uber remotely because her phone had low battery. Plaintiff’s phone, however, lost its charge, and she did not receive from her boyfriend the information identifying the authorized vehicle. Plaintiff then entered a car displaying an Uber decal that stopped in front of her. In fact, the driver—Brandon Sherman—was no longer employed by Uber, having been previously terminated for sexually assaulting two female passengers. Nonetheless, he retained and displayed the Uber decals. Sherman proceeded to kidnap and
sexually assault Plaintiff, for which he was eventually prosecuted and convicted

Doe sued Uber on negligence theories. Finding that a California intermediate appellate court decision addressing similar facts in tension with a more recent California Supreme Court case, today, the Ninth Circuit certified two questions to the California Supreme Court regarding the scope of a “merchant’s liability in tort with respect to customers who experience foreseeable injury due to third-party conduct”:

1. What duty of care, if any, does Uber owe a rideshare passenger who suffers an assault or other crime at the hands of an unauthorized person posing as an Uber driver?
2. If there is a basis for holding that Uber owed such a duty of care, do the Rowland factors counsel in favor of creating an exception to that duty in a category of cases involving rideshare companies and customers harmed by third-party conduct?

While the certified questions address the specific facts here, the resulting decision could impact a wide range of circumstances where customers experience injury caused by third parties.

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