February 23, 2016

A recent incident in Kalamazoo, Michigan comes just weeks after Uber settled two class-action lawsuits for $28.5 million after the company was accused of exaggerating the safety of its background checks. Despite using phrases such as “safest ride on the road” and “industry-leading background checks,” the suits claimed, the company did not check drivers against the national sex-offender registry or employ fingerprint identification. “We learned of systemic failures in Uber’s background checks,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said in reference to the lawsuits, according to Forbes. “We have learned they have drivers who are convicted sex offenders, thieves, burglars, kidnappers and a convicted murder.”

It turns out that previously screened Uber drivers have committed crimes including involvement in a racially motivated choking incident and an anti-gay assault, drunken driving and rape.  In one example an Uber driver, Patrick Karajah, 26, from Pacifica, California with no previous criminal record pleaded guilty in 2014 to felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury. Officials said he struck a 25-year-old passenger in the head with a hammer, fracturing the man’s skull, after an argument about the route Karajah was driving.

“People wanting to sign up as a driver-partner with Uber are required to provide detailed information, including their full name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, a copy of their driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance, and proof of a completed vehicle inspection,” an Uber statement said. “With the potential driver-partner’s approval, Checkr (a low cost and potentially superficial background check service) then looks into his or her background.”

The Uber background check includes a social security trace to identify addresses associated with the potential driver-partner’s name during the past seven years, and then searches for his or her name and addresses in a series of national, state and local databases for convictions in the last seven years.

Critics say seven years doesn’t peer far enough into a potential driver’s past.  Drivers cited in the lawsuits had felony convictions as long ago as 1982, Forbes reported, for incidents as wide-ranging as kidnapping for ransom, assault with a firearm, robbery and committing lewd or lascivious acts against a child under 14.  At the same time, Uber’s terms and conditions emphasize that passengers accept risk by riding in one of their vehicles.  “You understand, therefore, that by using the application and the service, you may be exposed to transportation that is potentially dangerous, offensive, harmful to minors, unsafe or otherwise objectionable,” Uber’s terms and conditions read, “and that you use the application and the service at your own risk.”

Chris Dolan, an attorney who is representing a 6-year-old girl who was struck and killed by an Uber driver this year, said the company’s fine print absolves the company of injury, accidents or a dangerous driver.”It completely covers their ass and says, ‘We’re not responsible for anything that happens to you, period,’” Dolan said. “It says, ‘You can be raped, you can be killed, you can be murdered, and it’s not our responsibility.’”