Somerville man sues Uber over crippling crash, alleging company ignored driver history

William Good, during his convalescence after an accident which occurred on April 30 in Somerville. (Photo: Victoria Santoro Mair)

A Somerville man filed a $63 million lawsuit against Uber on Tuesday over an accident that left him permanently paralyzed, saying the driver of the car had a history of reckless driving but still managed to pass the ridesharing company selection process. His lawyer, Victoria Santoro Mair, called it “inexplicable”.

“I struggle daily with the knowledge that this Uber employee was hired as a professional driver – the last thing he should have been hired for,” William Good, 31, said in a press release. “Most importantly, I find it hard to understand how such a sophisticated company has been completely unable to keep its drivers safe on the roads. I stay focused on taking responsibility for what happened to me and preventing it from happening to another person.

According to Mair, the driver had a record of 20 commuting violations, various accidents and state-ordered driver retraining. Uber let him drive “aware that he posed a danger to the public,” she said in a press release. “Uber’s business practices, which promote speed over safety and profits over people, have put all Massachusetts residents at risk.” She was not aware of any similar cases in state courts.

The accident that left Good a quadriplegic happened on April 30.

William Good at Boston University, where he worked as a chef. (Photo: Victoria Santoro Mair)

Good had called an Uber, as he regularly did, after working a long shift at Uni, a Japanese restaurant in Boston. He felt the driver – identified in the lawsuit as Jonas Yohou – was driving a bit fast, but tried to relax and look at his phone, Mair said in an interview. The driver told Good he was happy to go to Somerville because he could “fly those streets.” The collision happened at 12:57 a.m. at 251 Highland Ave., near the Beautique On The Ave barbershop between the old Somerville Hospital and a fire station. He was a few blocks from his house.

“My client, Mr. Good, sensed a discrepancy. He heard a curse, then metal on metal,” Mair said. The Uber had been driven into a parked vehicle, throwing Good into a headrest and breaking his neck. “The accident happened and Mr. Good collapsed. His eyes went to his hand, which was above his head, and he couldn’t move it. Then he had this sudden realization that he thought he was paralyzed. They had.”

The driver tried to move it several times, despite Good’s protests, but eventually called 911, Mair said. When first responders arrived, they had to use their extraction tools to get Good out.

The sound of the crash haunts Good, he told WCVB-TV, a sound “I still hear several times a day, metal on metal and glass crashing.”

William Good became permanently quadriplegic in the April 30 car accident, according to a complaint he filed. (Photo: Victoria Santoro Mair)

An Uber spokesperson, Austen Radcliff, said the company was unable to comment on Good’s claims due to ongoing litigation. She described the company’s background check process, explaining that in Massachusetts, potential drivers go through a two-part screening. Uber checks motor vehicle records and criminal offenses at the local, state and federal levels, then performs a state-run background check, Radcliff said. At least every six months, drivers are subject to a new check.

Mair called the incident “a tragedy. But beyond that, it’s an avoidable tragedy. His client, Good, would like to see Uber take “some responsibility, for Uber to do better, operate safer and protect people.”

The lawsuit says Uber “negligently induces its driver never to miss a fare or risk being fired,” which encourages reckless driving and speeding.

Whether drivers are independent contractors or employees is a related issue. “Uber is now putting a lot of effort and money – millions of dollars – into the state of Massachusetts to do something similar to what they did in California, which is to introduce a ballot measure …to find out whether or not workers hired by Uber, employed by Uber and paid by Uber are in fact employees of Uber,” Mair said. “It’s our position that they are.”

“That’s really how Uber handles things,” Mair said. “We want to see Uber take responsibility.”

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