Uber Faces Suit Over Alleged Driver Assault

     (CN) – Two riders are suing Uber Technologies for $1.25 million after their driver allegedly held one passenger in the backseat against her will, while beating the other bloody with a large umbrella.
     In a complaint filed on August 3, Terry S. Phillips, of Chesterfield County, Virginia, and Melanie Mroz, of Tarrant County, Texas, say they were in Manhattan for business on Dec. 10, 2014, when Uber driver Allaoua Chatouk responded to their request for hire.
     Phillips and Mroz allege an altercation erupted when their driver attempted to double charge the riders for taxi fare on top of the standard Uber fees. Chatouk became enraged and threatened to detain the pair if they did not pay, the complaint says.
     Uber, a transportation system that touts itself as “Everyone’s Private Driver,” allows its drivers to dispatch rides themselves using the company’s smartphone software platform, then calculates fares based on distance, location and peak service hours to be deducted from the rider’s credit card on file.
     Because he had no way to cancel Uber fees to his credit card, he refused to pay the extra fare, but as soon as Phillips stepped out of the car, the passengers say, Chatouk sped off recklessly with a terrified Mroz trapped in the backseat.
     Phillips claims he chased after the vehicle, but was forced to throw himself to the curb to avoid being run over by the disgruntled driver, who allegedly made a series of speedy U-turns along 57th Street, violently tossing Mroz about the backseat while she pleaded for him to stop.
     After circling the area for a period of time, Mroz says. Chatouk finally released her a few blocks from Phillips – but their nightmarish ride was not yet over.
     “As Terry and Melanie began to walk down the street, Chatouk physically chased them on foot, causing both Terry and Melanie imminent fear of bodily harm,” the complaint says. “Terry challenged the Uber driver several times to stay away, but the driver kept stalking Terry and Melanie, yelling and cursing obscenities.”
     The frightened pair say they hid inside a hotel lobby until they thought the coast was clear, but Chatouk was waiting for them outside.
     “The driver had obtained a weapon – a large umbrella,” Phillips and Mroz say. “The Uber driver struck Terry directly in the face with the umbrella. The umbrella hit Terry in the lips, causing Terry’s lower lip to become enmeshed in his teeth and to become red, swollen and bleeding.”
     Phillips was taken to a hospital and Chatouk was arrested and fired from Uber following the incident, the complaint says. It is not clear from the court documents whether Chatouk was charged with any crime in connection with the assault.
     Uber required Chatouk, an “at-will” contract employee at the time of the incident, to carry the umbrella for his passengers’ convenience, according to the complaint.
     Prospective Uber drivers must clear background and DMV checks and sign a partnership agreement “to partner with the safest drivers,” the complaint says.
     The Uber Driver Handbook specifies what type of music drivers should play on the radio, how drivers should dress and act, and requires drivers to review their passengers according to a “star rating system.” Uber riders are likewise encouraged to review their driver.
     Uber drivers receive a company phone and are expected to send a text message no more than two minutes before picking up a customer; drivers are discouraged from accepting tips, but collect 80 percent of each fare while Uber keeps 20 percent as a service fee, according to the handbook.
     “Uber had the power to control almost every facet of Chatouk’s work, right down to whether Chatouk had ‘an umbrella in [his] car for clients,'” Phillips and Mroz say. “Uber had the absolute power to shut off its application, and, in fact, Uber regularly terminates the accounts of drivers who do not perform up to Uber’s standards.”
     Uber has not yet responded to Courthouse News’ request for comment on the lawsuit.

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