In early June, a Brooklyn judge ruled that Uber users couldn’t be expected to navigate to the terms & conditions section of the app to locate legal language that binds them to using arbitration to solve disputes with the company. The ruling came about in response to a Brooklyn woman’s attempt to sue the rideshare giant for failing to pick her up when she requested a wheelchair-accessible car. The woman, Elizabeth Ramos, is disabled and has relied on a wheelchair for most of her life. In the summer of 2016, she attempted to secure a ride through Uber in a wheelchair-capable car on multiple occasions, only to be told there were no cars available. With the hope of making Uber as user-friendly for the disabled as for the able-bodied, she decided to sue the company. It was only through attempting to sue that she realized she had unknowingly agreed to arbitration. Users who order a ride through Uber are automatically bound to the Terms & Conditions just by using the service.
Arbitration is a process in which disputes are handled outside the courtroom with an arbitrator (a negotiator) chosen by the group accused of wrongdoing. The meetings are held behind closed doors, so the public has no idea that a dispute has been brought forth. Companies favor arbitration agreements because they are more favorable to the company and eliminate the potential for high jury verdicts. They also help keep unsavory details of abuse, neglect, and discrimination out of the public eye, allowing the company to retain tighter control of their public image.
Ruling Could Pave the Way for Other Lawsuits