WEST MICHIGAN — The peer-to-peer ride sharing company Uber has agreed to pay $10 million in damages after California prosecutors found it misled passengers about the quality of its driver background checks.
Local attorney Tom Sinas has been looking at the online taxi service with a critical eye. He specializes in Michigan no-fault insurance cases.
"Uber is operating in our state right now all over with no regulations whatsoever, there's no local regulations in Grand Rapids," said Sinas.
No regulations mean no rules regarding criminal background checks for drivers, and no determination for whether they should be considered Uber employees or independent contractors, according to Sinas.
"Uber has taken the very clear position in every litigation around the country that its drivers are not its employees even though they hire the drivers, they fire the drivers, and they set the rates," Sinas said.
Uber recently settled a lawsuit in California where they agreed to pay $10 million dollars in damages to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The settlement goes back to a lawsuit that was filed in both counties in 2014—a consumer protection law suit that was brought by county prosecutors in California—alleging the company's criminal background checks and claims of being the 'safest ride on the road' were overblown.
Here's what the company has to say about it in a statement given to FOX 17:
"Technology enables us to focus on safety before, during and after a trip in ways that were simply not possible before smartphones. However, no means of transportation can ever be 100 percent safe. Accidents and incidents do happen. That’s why we need to ensure that the language used to describe safety at Uber is clear and precise. So we’ve agreed not to use terms like “safest ride on the road” or describe our background checks as “the gold standard”. These commitments are almost identical to those we made as part of a class-action lawsuit settlement in February—and to commitments made by Lyft as part of their settlement with the district attorneys in 2014."
But what about issues with the company's marketing? Or the overall safety for customers?
"I would like to think this lawsuit highlights the fact that background checks don`t always work," Sinas said. "Uber's business model and safety is only as good as it wants to be because we don`t have local regulation of Uber."
It's a situation that many across the country believe was magnified in the Kalamazoo shooting rampage involving an Uber driver on the clock.
Jason Dalton, a registered Uber driver, is accused of gunning down eight people, killing six. Police said he admitted to doing it and telling them his Uber app was controlling his mind.
"Uber has actually cleared to drive a number of convicted felons, including a couple people who've been convicted of sexual assault," said Sinas.
In Lansing, two Uber drivers are being charged with sex crimes, something many other Uber drivers have been accused of across the country.
"Taxi cabs for example will do finger print ID of their drivers which is important because if you're trying to match a criminal record with a person, you have to know the person your talking about is the person you're looking up," Sinas said.
But with local and state governments unwilling to regulate the ride-hailing company, experts say it's customers who have to decide on their own if Uber is the safest ride on the road.