Uber acted reasonably in deactivating the account of a dangerous driver

The District Court of Western Australia rejected a claim of $500,000 in damages from an Uber driver, finding Uber acted reasonably in deactivating the driver’s account after passengers had complained that they felt unsafe, reporting the driver crossed the centre line of the road and almost fell asleep.

Raiser Operations BV (the defendant) provides telephone application services to the ride sharing platform Uber.

In May 2015, Mr Oze applied to the Defendant to become a driver with Uber and used the platform to drive passengers until 14 November 2015 when his account was suspended and then deactivated on 24 November 2015.

The Defendant argued Mr Oze’s contract was lawfully terminated as they had received several complaints from passengers regarding dangerous driving, constituting a material breach of the contract.

Mr Oze claimed the defendant wrongfully terminated the contract and claimed $500,000 in damages for breach of contract and for breach of duty of care. He argued Uber terminated the contract without warning, failed to properly investigate the complaints, did not inform him of the nature of the complaints, and did not offer any opportunity for him to improve his services.

On a number of occasions, Uber received negative feedback in response to Mr Oze’s driving, including Mr Oze speeding, appearing fatigued, crossing the centre lines and almost falling asleep.

Uber produced records of correspondence with Mr Oze, where they informed him of the general nature of the negative feedback he received and advised him that driving long hours was unsafe, and that his account would be temporarily or permanently deactivated if users continued to report feeling unsafe.

In response to one email sent by Uber, Mr Oze responded that he believed the low rating was because he had told some disorderly passengers to keep their feet off the seats. Uber responded to this email with a suggestion for how to manage such passengers, and suggested he obtain a receipt for cleaning so Uber could reimburse him if they thought it was appropriate. Mr Oze did not respond to the email.

In response to another email sent by Uber regarding performance concerns, Mr Oze sent an email to Uber asking for more details about the complaint. An employee of Uber requested Mr Oze either respond via the email he was referring to or copy and paste its contents so they could respond appropriately, however Mr Oze did not make further contact.

After receiving an additional complaint on 14 November 2015, the operations manager for Uber Perth reviewed Mr Oze’s account history and decided to suspend his account, pending investigation. The matter was referred to Mr White, the general manager of Uber in Western Australia.

Mr White had a meeting with Mr Oze and informed him of the general nature of the complaints and that he would speak to Uber employees before making a final decision, however he was leaning towards a permanent deactivation of Mr Oze’s account.

On 24 November 2015, Mr White permanently deactivated Mr Oze’s account.

Mr Oze requested a formal letter stating the reasons for the deactivation and details of this allegations. This was provided to him on the same day.

On 30 November 2015, Mr Oze received an email setting out his driver rating, which was higher than the minimum average rating. Mr White stated that this email was sent in error, and Mr Oze’s contract was not terminated because of a low rating but because of the serious alleged breaches regarding the safety of passengers.

Decision

The terms of the contract allowed the Defendant to deactivate or restrict Mr Oze from using the driver application if there was a violation of the agreement or if he engaged in an act or omission that harmed the Defendant’s reputation or business. The Court found driving whilst tired and potentially endangering the safety of passengers and other road users could damage the reputation of Uber and therefore constituted an important or significant breach, making it a material breach and entitling Uber to terminate the contract.

The Court stated:

“Although the defendant did not provide transport services directly, it was implied that it would take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the user passenger was not at risk. Having received complaints about the quality of Mr Oze's driving, the defendant acted reasonably. Mr Oze has not established that the defendant acted unlawfully in terminating his account.”

Further, Uber was transparent in carrying out the deactivation process and Mr Oze had been informed of his low ratings and advised of the risk of driving for long hours.

The Court found Mr Oze was aware the contract was not an employment agreement and while this did not absolve Uber completely of its duty of care, Mr Oze was entitled to contact Uber to make further enquiries about complaints, Uber had made suggestions in relation to dealing with “objectionable passengers” and offered to pay for cleaning and informed him of the nature of various complaints. Therefore, Uber was not found to have breached the agreement.

The Court found Uber was not required to prove each complaint it received was truthful, but rather deal with the complainant “reasonably, consistent with the terms and conditions of the contract”. This was achieved as Uber considered the complaints of different passengers in different time periods regarding the same issue.

Further, the Court found that apart from Mr Oze’s testimony, there was no evidence he had sustained psychiatric injury from the deactivation of his Uber account, and it was not reasonably foreseeable that he would suffer from such a condition due to the deactivation.

While Mr Oze entered into a lease agreement that caused him to suffer a degree of loss, Uber did not request he enter into the lease.

As a consequence of the above findings, the Court dismissed the claim.

Read the full decision here

* PCC Lawyers are a team of employment practitioners based in Sydney, with many years of combined knowledge and experience in workplace law, industrial relations, workplace investigations and training.  They provide a high standard of excellence and an exceptional level of personal service to a variety of clients in the Sydney metropolitan area, Central Coast, regional NSW and interstate. 

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