The random shootings yesterday by an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan yesterday sent shockwaves throughout the entire state. The magnitude of the tragedy and grief of the victims cannot be measured. Thoughts and prayers go out to the family members and those victims still fighting for their lives.
Uber is a phenomenon that has taken over the United States and in many other countries. Never has it been so easy and convenient to summon a car virtually anywhere and any time of day. In fact, I just returned from a meeting in Seattle this past weekend and took an Uber vehicle on several occasions. I enjoyed speaking to the friendly drivers, but wondered "Can anyone just become an Uber driver?"
It seems as though pretty much anyone can drive for Uber. All you need is a clean car, a cell phone, and a tank of gas. The company undoubedtly pre-screens its drivers to some degree, but questions remain as to the way drivers are investigated and the control that Uber has over its drivers. This clearly became a major issue yesterday.
My teenage children often ask if they and their friends can "Uber" to a movie or a restaurant. I gently remind them that it is not safe for kids their age to get into cars with strangers. For some reason, there has become an unfettered trust to ride with Uber.
The investigation into the Uber driver and shooter will hopefully reveal more details in the near future. We need to find out what the company knew about the driver and if this tragedy could have been prevented. The goal is to prevent this same thing from happening again in the future.
Typically under Michigan law, a company cannot be held liable for the criminal acts of its employees during the course of their employment. There are some exceptions, such as when an employee is "required" to sue force for the job, like a bouncer or security guard that oversteps the bounds of acceptable conduct. Another exception can be when the employer knew, or should have known, of the dangerous propensities of an employee but fails to act to protect the public.
In this case, it appears that the Uber driver was working and even between rides when some of the shootings occurred. One news account indicates that complaints were made to the company about the erratic behavior of the shooter. If this is true, it is essential to find out what the company knew, when they knew it, and what they did with the information.
Did Uber contact the police and alert authorities to possible violent behavior? Certainly the company would have been able to pinpoint the driver's physicial location in the vehicle and provide that information ot the police. If that information was provided, could the police have stopped all of the shootings or at least some of the later shootings?
Hopefully, more information will shed light on this information in the days ahead. Perhaps, recordings or at least evidence of phone calls to Uber may surface. Of course, this will not serve as any comfort to the victims and their families.
At some point, the legal battles may begin between the victims and Uber to seek accountability for this tragedy. The courts in Michigan will have to carefully weigh the facts and determine whether the ridesharing company can be held liable for the harm caused by the shooter. As usual, the victims, families, and the public can expect a long drawn out legal process.