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Legal Report: Uber to Face Almost 80 Negligence Lawsuits from Passengers

Judicial Decisions

Australia

COVID-19 negligence. The Carnival Cruise Line was found negligent for failing to cancel a 2020 trip that resulted in 663 passengers catching COVID-19 and 28 deaths.

An Australian federal judge determined that the company either knew or should have known about the increased risk that the virus presented, especially on a vessel, prior to the trip. The ship departed for a 13-day journey from Sydney, Australia, to New Zealand and back on 8 March 2020 with approximately 2,671 passengers and 1,146 crew members.

Passengers on the Ruby Princess, which is operated by Carnival’s Princess Cruises, filed the class action lawsuit against Carnival and Princess Cruises, accusing the companies of violating Australian consumer law and being negligent in its duty of care.

Lead plaintiff Susan Karpik was awarded out-of-pocket medical expenses, amounting to AU$4,423.48 ($2,803.87). Unless Carnival agrees to a settlement, other passengers will each have to prove the veracity of their claims. (Karpik v. Carnival plc, Federal Court of Australia, No. FCA 1280, 2023)

United States

Sexual assault. A panel ruling determined that 79 lawsuits filed by women claiming that Uber has not sufficiently protected passengers from being sexually assaulted can be joined in federal court.

This batch of lawsuits only involves passengers, not drivers, who assert they were attacked in some way—ranging from groping to kidnapping to rape.

After a spate of negative media coverage in 2018 about Uber riders being sexually assaulted, Uber has published two safety reports looking into critical safety incidents between 2017 and 2020. The company has also created safety features for app users, including an in-app 911 feature and an option for riders to share their trip details with trusted contacts—plus a list of safety tips developed with law enforcement professionals.

However, the lawsuits allege that Uber has been slow or insufficient in its response to safety concerns, including allegedly failing to remove drivers who have had sexual assault violations filed against them.

A panel of judges ruled that the cases will proceed to trial in their respective states, unless a federal judge in Northern District of California—Charles Breyer—decides to preside over a “bellwether trial,” where one trial would represent all the cases. Of the 79 cases, 62 of them are pending in that district, which is the location of Uber’s headquarters.

The ruling assigned Breyer as the judge who will preside over pretrial proceedings, including depositions from witnesses and experts and document discovery. (Re: Uber Technologies Inc., Passenger Sexual Assault Litigation, U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, No. 3084, 2023)

Patent rights. A federal court awarded video doorbell company SkyBell Technologies more than $45 million in damages after ruling that home security company Vivint violated the company’s patent rights.

The Texas jury in the case found that Vivint infringed two of SkyBell Technologies’ patents on doorbell camera technology.

The suit, which was filed in November 2020, alleged that Vivint infringed patents Nos. 9,485,478 (‘478) and 10,674,120 (‘120). The jury determined that Vivint infringed the patents with the use of a smartphone app connected to its doorbells, which allows a user to view video from the doorbell camera on the app via a wireless transmission of the video data, as well as the ability for users to store the data on a smart drive.

The jury also determined that SkyBell proved that Vivint willfully infringed both patents, which could later allow for greater damages to be awarded by a judge.

“We plan to mount a vigorous appeal not only as to the invalidity of the patents but also that Vivint does not infringe these patents and are confident these issues will ultimately be resolved in our favor,” a Vivint spokesperson said in an emailed statement. (SB IP Holdings LLC v. Vivint, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, No. 20-cv-00886-ALM, 2023)

Legislation

U.S. States

Mental health. California Governor Gavin Newsom amended the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, altering the state’s conservatorship program to include people suffering with untreated mental illness or unhealthy addiction under the law’s definition of someone who is “gravely disabled.”

Conservatorship is a legal arrangement where a court appoints another person to make legal decisions for someone deemed unfit to make his or her own decisions. This allows the conservator to control or regulate aspects of the other person’s life—in this case determining for him or her when to receive medical treatment and medications.

The new law, which was supported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness California, could force persons with mental health or addiction illnesses to be detained and placed into treatment.

Proposed as Senate Bill 43, the law was developed partly as a method for combatting the state’s problem with homelessness. California is home to more than 171,000 people experiencing homelessness, many of whom suffer from a mental illness or an addiction to certain drugs or alcohol.

The new law becomes enforceable in May 2024, although counties can opt to postpone implementing it until 1 January 2026.

Gun control. Connecticut’s sweeping new gun control measure took effect at the beginning of October, banning open carry and the sale of more than three handguns to the same person within a span of 30 days.

The law, Public Act No. 23-53, is considered the most wide-ranging piece of legislation in the state since a 2013 law enacted in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Regulations

European Union

Content moderation. The European Commission voted for draft rules on content moderation restrictions from large online platforms, including Google and Meta. If approved, the new rules would force platforms to keep news content—even potential instances of disinformation and misinformation—posted by media outlets for at least 24 hours before the post’s removal, if the post violates the site’s content moderation rules.

Empowered by the Media Freedom Act proposed by the commission last year, the draft rules aim to ensure that no one media outlet has a monopoly within a platform.

The rules were proposed in response to complaints filed by media outlets that claimed that platforms were arbitrarily removing their content.

Prior to adopting these rules, legislators are expected to determine their final details within the next few months.

China

Unprofessional conduct. China’s Asset Management Association banned one of the nation’s largest quantitative hedge funds from registering new products for three months after determining that employees behaved in an “inappropriate” manner. The decision came after the company, Shanghai Minghong Investment Management Co, did not effectively manage instances where staff made unwelcome comments about other employees on social media, according to news reports.

Another regulator—the Shanghai branch of the China Securities Regulatory Commission—pointed out the same issue to the hedge fund in August 2023.

Also of Interest

Security Management also tracks instances where security incidents and interests intersect with judicial, legislative, and regulatory agencies. The following are stories of potential significance.

Discrimination. A jury ordered Google to pay $1.15 million to an executive over claims of sex discrimination and retaliation, violating New York’s Equal Pay Law.

Fraud. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced charges against software company SolarWinds Corporation and its chief information security officer, accusing them of intentionally misleading investors about the scope of its cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities. Read more in Security Management's coverage here.

Medical assault. Five detainees in an Arkansas detention center were each awarded $2,000 after they were repeatedly given an assortment of drugs that they were told would treat their bouts of COVID-19. The doctor had instead given them extremely large doses ivermectin, a deworming medication that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against using for that purpose.

School safety. Georgia’s lieutenant governor announced a voluntary program that would pay teachers to carry guns in schools.

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