FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) – On a rainy afternoon in June, Mary Ann Krivda pulled her four-door sedan into a St. Petersburg, Florida parking lot. Krivda, who began driving for the ride-sharing service Uber four months ago, saw her passenger, an elderly woman with a walker, standing under a tree.
Krivda, 53, stepped out of the car to help the woman into the backseat and attempted to put the walker in the trunk. But the walker would not fit.
“I said, ‘Ma’am, this walker is not going to fit,’” Krivda recalls. “I offered to drive her under the awning of the building to wait for another ride, but I couldn’t drive down the road with my trunk open and the walker falling out.”
The woman refused, berated Krivda and wouldn’t get out of the car, she claims.
“I said, ‘Ma’am, you do understand you are holding me against my will?’” Krivda says. “So, I called the police to get her out.”
The woman ended up leaving on her own before police arrived, Krivda says, but the experience unsettled her.
“I was basically carjacked by a woman with a walker,” she says. “Just because it’s an older lady with a walker doesn’t mean it can’t be an older lady with a walker and a gun or knife.”
If you spend enough time with an Uber driver, you’re bound to hear tales of irate or unruly passengers. That uneasiness has led one South Florida driver to challenge Uber’s policy prohibiting weapons.
Last week, Jose Mejia filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Uber, alleging its no-firearms policy violates Florida law.
The complaint, filed Friday in Fort Lauderdale federal court, cites the Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act, passed by the Florida Legislature in 2008.
The law allows legal gun owners to keep firearms in their vehicles on their employer’s property and bans any employment discrimination based on gun ownership.
According to the complaint, Mejia holds a permit to carry a concealed weapon and he wants the option to carry his firearm while shuttling people around the state.
“You may or may not agree with the Second Amendment, but it is not up to Uber to unilaterally decide drivers’ constitutional rights or their rights under this law,” said Mejia’s attorney, Elizabeth Beck of Miami-based Beck & Lee Trial Lawyers.
A spokeswoman for Uber declined to comment on the lawsuit and referred Courthouse News to the firearms prohibition policy listed on its website.
“Our goal is to ensure that everyone has a safe and reliable ride,” the policy states. “That's why Uber prohibits riders and drivers from carrying firearms of any kind in a vehicle while using our app. Anyone who violates this policy may lose access to Uber.”
Uber banned drivers and passengers from carrying firearms in 2015 after a Chicago driver shot a suspected gunman who fired into a group of people in Logan Square.
In the past, Uber has attempted to skirt some employment laws by claiming drivers are independent contractors and not actual employees. However, Mejia’s attorney points to language in the 2008 Florida statute that specifically covers independent contractors and volunteers.
“You don’t even have to be paid to be covered by this law,” Beck said.
Uber has fired Florida drivers who violated the weapons ban – or, as the company puts it, restricted the driver’s use of the app.
In 2015, a retired New York Police Department officer driving in Clearwater, Fla. shot a passenger in the foot after the man allegedly attempted to choke him. Uber fired him days later.
Across the bay in Tampa, Uber driver Robert Addington says drunks are more of a problem than robbers.
“I’ve never had any rides where I’ve felt threatened,” he said. “I had a woman spit on my car once. Every now and again, you have a bad apple, but nothing that has been physically violent.”
The 48-year-old recalled one passenger in Tampa’s trendy SoHo district who puked in his car.
“Luckily, I happened to have a five-gallon bucket in the car,” he said. “I always told myself I would never drive at night, because I didn’t want to deal with the drunks. But one night I took an Uber myself at 2 a.m. and noticed the surge pricing.”
The extra money persuaded Addington to drive weekends from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. for a few months.
“You can choose who you pick up,” he explaieds. “Sometimes you can’t choose where you are dropping off, but I’m not worried about it. I don’t carry a weapon or cash. My car is insured. If they were to rob me, there’s not much to get.”
Krivda, the Uber driver from St. Petersburg, does not work late nights, but sympathizes with some Uber drivers’ fears.
“I can understand where people would be concerned,” she said. "If someone can get into your car with a concealed weapon, there’s no reason you should not be able to carry a concealed weapon, too.”
“It’s your car and anything can happen,” she added.
Mejia’s lawsuit seeks to represent a class of Florida Uber drivers with a concealed-carry license. He wants a judge to declare that the ride-sharing company’s policy against firearms violates the 2008 Florida law.
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