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Is Uber's Background Check Policy Endangering the Public?

On the evening of Feb. 20, an Uber driver opened fire on seemingly random people in Kalamazoo, Michigan, leaving six dead and two wounded. Local police arrested 45-year-old Jason Dalton for the shootings, charging him with six murder counts, eight firearm counts, and two charges of assault with intent to commit murder. Judge Christopher Haekicke has denied Dalton’s bail and calendared a preliminary hearing for March 3.

Uber executives have bristled at the suggestion its background checks are a security problem.

“There is a full background check done on all driver partners for Uber and this individual had a background check completed and there was nothing in his background to indicate he was a problem,” Ed Davis, who serves on Uber’s U.S. Safety Advisory Board, told Good Morning America on Feb. 22. “He had no record whatsoever.”

Uber critics allege the ridesharing app company should have done more to protect public safety. About an hour before the first shooting, Uber received several complaints about Dalton’s erratic and dangerous driving. One of Dalton’s riders stated he called 911 to report his reckless driving, but his complaint was not taken seriously.

This isn’t the first time Uber has been criticized for its safety record. Last September, an Uber driver in Ohio was accused of sexual assault, raising questions about the ride-hailing startup’s safety and hiring process.

In early 2015, the Los Angeles and San Francisco district attorneys’ offices filed a joint lawsuit against Uber, alleging that the California-based company’s representation that it uses the National Sex Offender Registry to run background checks is untrue, because that database is only available to law enforcement personnel. Who's Driving You, a public safety campaign financed by the rival taxi industry, also asserts that Uber should require an in-person meeting to vet a potential driver before permitting that person to pick up riders.

On Feb. 12, Uber settled a class action lawsuit over its so-called “safe ride fee.” Uber said it performed industry-leading background checks on drivers, but in actuality, the company failed to perform finger print checks that are normally required of taxi drivers. Under the $28.5 million settlement agreement, Uber would stop using some allegedly misleading safety-related language in its advertising and would rename its "Safe Ride Fee" as a "Booking Fee."

Uber’s terms and conditions may give some users pause before when considering whether to use the app. The legal document states that Uber’s service is provided “as-is” and that when you use the service, “you agree that the entire risk…remains solely with you.”

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, Siegel, P.C., our team of legal professionals are often confronted with the sad reality that companies frequently put profits before people. If the facts reveal that an adequate background check would have flagged Jason Dalton, Uber has exposed itself to serious liability risks.