If a restaurant uses a ride-share service such as Uber Eats to deliver food, and the driver gets in a motor vehicle accident, can the restaurant be held liable?

If it is determined that the delivery driver was an independent contractor, then the answer is no and the restaurant would be immune from liability.

In the case of Uber Eats specifically, several factors weigh in favor of an independent contractor determination, based on the case law below. These factors are:

  1. Uber Eats partners with numerous restaurants as opposed to delivering exclusively for one establishment;
  2. People sign up to deliver food for Uber Eats using their own mode of transportation, which is neither owned nor controlled by the restaurant;
  3. Uber Eats handles customer feedback and complaints; and
  4. Delivery is facilitated and tracked through Uber Eats.

While there is no specific precedent concerning companies such as Uber Eats, Postmates, or other ride-sharing companies, there are cases where other delivery drivers or bicycle messengers were held to be independent contractors.

  • In New York, whether someone is considered an independent contractor is a fact-specific question. Factors to be considered include whether the worker (1) worked at his or her own convenience; (2) was free to engage in other employment; (3) received fringe benefits; (4) was on the employer's payroll; and (5) was on a fixed schedule. Bynog v. Cipriani Group, 1 N.Y.3d 193 (2003); see also Hernandez v. Chefs Diet Delivery, LLC, 81 A.D.3d 596 (2d Dep't 2011).
  • In the Matter of Vega, 2018 NY Slip Op 4610 (3rd Dept. 2018), the Appellate Division, Third Department, found no employer-employee relationship for Postmates in a case regarding whether Postmates was required to pay unemployment insurance. However, there was a two justice dissent and the claimant may be pursuing an appeal to the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court.
  • In New Jersey, the court established several factors that must be considered in determining whether the principal maintains the right of control over an individual claimed to be an independent contractor. Those factors include: (a) the extent of control which, by the agreement, the master may exercise over the details of the work; (b) whether or not the one employed is engaged in a distinct occupation or business; (d) the skill required in the particular occupation; (e) whether the employer or the workman supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work for the person doing the work; (f) the length of time for which the person is employed; (g) the method of payment, whether by the time or by the job; (h) whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the employer; and (i) whether or not the parties believe they are creating the relation of master and servant. Chinn v. Mark Transp., Inc., 2010 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 246 (App. Div. 2010).

Uber Eats and other ride-sharing companies have a more removed relationship with the restaurants than typical delivery drivers who typically work with one restaurant. Therefore, it appears unlikely that a restaurant can be held liable if a food delivery service, like Uber Eats, is involved in an accident while delivering food from said restaurant.

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