On December 27th, Pablo Sanchez Jr. of North Miami was killed while taking an Uber ride home from a Miami nightclub.

Sanchez and three of his friends were riding in a GMC Yukon when the driver tried to make a left-hand turn onto SW 144th Street. A Toyota Corolla heading south on SW 157th Avenue crashed into the Yukon, which rolled over, landed against a wall and burst into flames. Everyone escaped but Sanchez, who was trapped inside.

His family can’t comprehend the loss, nor the accident. Was the Uber driver alert? Intoxicated? Licensed?

As the family awaits a next move from the police, who have yet to bring charges, they have filed a civil lawsuit against Uber as well as the Yukon driver, the Yukon owner, and the Corolla driver.

Is Uber Liable?

William Ruffier of the Orlando law firm Dellecker Wilson King McKenna Ruffier & Sos, who is not involved in the case, says, “Right now, there’s some confusion about Uber drivers and whether they’re agents of Uber or truly independent contractors. While Uber states that its drivers are independent contractors, a jury can look at evidence that could suggest otherwise.”

For example, if a so-called independent contractor can lose his contract if he turns down a job (in the case of Uber, a job would be a ride-sharing opportunity), or if the independent contractor can’t set his own rates or control other aspects of his business, it calls into question whether he is truly an independent contractor or an employee.

Avoiding Regulation

Uber has made headlines before. The innovative transportation company has been derided by traditional taxi companies who in many cities must adhere to stricter regulatory standards, which are costly to follow. Uber has been able to avoid most regulation because it defines itself as a peer-to-peer service rather than a transportation company, and their classification as a marketplace for entrepreneurs to connect with customers is also designed to help them avoid liability. As injury cases emerge, we expect to see the courts examine the way Uber self-identifies.

Ruffier concludes, “Our firm has on many occasions closely examined this situation where a corporation attempts to escape legal liability by claiming a person is an independent contractor and we certainly anticipate this issue coming to fruition more often as it relates to Uber drivers.”

Ruffier-e1420555621156William Ruffier is an attorney at Dellecker Wilson King McKenna Ruffier & Sos.