A fast-growing nationwide valet parking service was involved in an April San Francisco car accident that cost the life of a woman, according to news reports. Like ride-share companies Lyft and Uber, Luxe uses contract drivers. When crashes like this one happen, it raises legal questions about the ability to hold the company paying the driver’s salary responsible for the harm caused in the course of its business enterprise.
The crash happened on Apr. 7, but it took more than a month for Luxe’s involvement to come to light. According to CNET, A Luxe valet was driving a customer’s SUV when he crashed into a car the victim was riding in, as the driver of that car was attempting a left turn.
Pictures from the scene show the car’s roof and right-side doors completely torn off, and the windshield smashed in. It is unclear how fast the Luxe valet was going when he crashed into the car.
Luxe says this was its first fatal accident since it went into business about a year and a half ago. The company sends valets to pick up customers’ vehicles and transport them to parking lots. Customers later use a cellphone app to get their vehicle delivered back to them.
Uber and Lyft, which offer a different service but also rely on paid drivers, have tried to argue in the past that they don’t actually have any “employees” but rather only employ “independent contractors”. This dichotomy affects whether the law attributes fault and responsibility to the employer: employers are responsible for the acts of their employees; hirers are typically not responsible for the acts of independent contractors.
The test of employee versus independent contractors one based upon state law. California, there is an eight part test that court or jury uses to determine whether a driver is an employee or contractor. From a public health and safety point of view, multi-million dollar corporations who are paying unqualified drivers should not be able to use the legal fiction independent contractor. If the legislature won’t fix this, the courts will.