Class Fights Uber for Workers’ Comp Coverage

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – An LA-based Uber driver who says he was beaten up by a customer filed a class action accusing the ride-hailing upstart of refusing to buy workers’ compensation insurance.
     Uber driver and lead plaintiff Omar Zine on Friday sued Uber Technologies, Rasier LLC, Rasier-CA, Laju Choudhury, and a person identified only as Doe Assailant, in LA County Superior Court.
     “Our client was bodily assaulted, which was not an unforeseeable harm,” attorney John Kristensen told Courthouse News. “Ratepayers have been assaulting cabbies since the dawn of rickshaw transportation some 2,000 ago, so Uber should have known it was a possibility.”
     Uber refuses to get workers’ compensation insurance for drivers because it wants to “get rid of all employment protections that have come about in the last 200 years,” he added.
     The California Labor Commission in June rejected Uber’s arguments that it is a “neutral technological platform,” finding that the company is “involved in every aspect of the operation.” Given that involvement, the commission determined that drivers are properly classified as employees and ordered Uber to pay driver Barbara Berwick $4,152 in reimbursable business expenses.
     Nevertheless, Zine says, Uber still classifies drivers as independent contractors so it can avoid covering them under workers’ compensation insurance.
     This lack of coverage meant Zine could not drive and earn income for weeks after a customer’s friend beat him up, according to the complaint.
     Zine says he was driving Choudhury and Doe in December 2014 when he and Doe got into an argument: “A verbal dispute occurred and Doe assailant escalated this situation by repeatedly, and viciously, punching and hitting plaintiff in the face and head. This heinous attack was intended to and did cause severe injury to plaintiff, including but not limited do knocking teeth out of plaintiff’s head and breaking his jaw. Plaintiff required medical attention and surgeries to treat the injuries inflicted by Doe assailant,” the complaint states.
     Kristensen said Doe used a metal pipe or similar object during the assault on Zine.
     “He is driving again, but is not able to go back to full-time work,” Kristensen added.
     Zine says he is now permanently disabled and has struggled with depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and humiliation after the “heinous beating” he suffered at the hands of Doe.
     He also claims there are thousands of current and former drivers who are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits they never received because Uber misclassified them as independent contractors.
     Not covering its drivers allows Uber to do business at lower costs than if it had properly classified drivers as employees and purchased the insurance, according to the complaint.
     Uber tried to force Zine to arbitrate the matter, but he would not do it, Kristensen said.
     “The pervasiveness of arbitration agreements has gone past the tipping point,” he said. “This case exemplifies that.”
     Uber did not immediately return requests for comment.
     Zine wants a declaration that Uber must classify all drivers as employees, restitution for himself and all class members for all the profits Uber made by failing to protect them with workers’ compensation coverage, and special, punitive and exemplary damages for unfair business practices, assault and battery.
     John Kristensen is with Kristensen Weisberg of Santa Monica, California.
     Uber has been the target of several similar lawsuits since the 2013 suit brought by former drivers claiming they were misclassified as contractors.
     In June this year, Uber drivers Lori Kellett and David Cotoi of Los Angeles sued Uber for allegedly failing to pay overtime and regular wages and not providing them with meal and rest breaks.
     An administrative law judge in mid July recommended that Uber be fined $7.3 million for breaking several California laws, such as failing to report on disabled accessibility requirements and problems with drivers. Uber stated that it would appeal the ruling.
     Another Los Angeles class action accuses Uber of advertising, falsely, that it is cheaper than traditional cab companies, while California cabbies claim Uber lied about offering the “safest rides on the road” via advertisements and media statements.

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