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Slain Uber driver’s family sues company for wrongful death

FILE - In this May 30, 2019, file photo the logo for Uber appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Less than a month since its disappointing stock market debut, Uber said Tuesday, June 4, that the IRS is reviewing its 2013 and 2014 taxes. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

The logo for Uber appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 2019. The family of an Uber driver has sued the company after he was killed by a passenger in Oxon Hill. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

The three young children of an Uber driver allegedly killed by a passenger in Oxon Hill filed suit against the ride-share company in federal court this week, saying their father would still be alive if the firm conducted criminal background checks on its customers as it does on its drivers.

Beaudouin Tchakounte was shot to death at about 9:30 on a summer night last year by Aaron Lanier Wilson Jr., who had requested a ride via Uber’s online procedure, the family alleges in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Wilson, who had a violent criminal record also shot and killed Casey Robinson, who was already a passenger in Tchakounte’s car, the complaint stated.

“As a direct and proximate result of Uber’s failure to use any of its basic protocols for screening drivers to likewise screen passengers, or otherwise use its massive data crunching capabilities to ‘red flag’ a dangerous passenger, Uber matched a man with a violent criminal history of assault with a firearm and carjacking to driver Beaudouin Tchakounte for an Uber pool ride on Aug. 27, 2019,” the family’s lead attorney, Jessica P. Weber, stated in the complaint.

“Uber’s apathy towards the safety of its drivers left two grieving families and Mr. Tchakounte’s long-term life partner and fiancée to explain to their three young children why their father was not ever coming home again,” wrote Weber, of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP in Baltimore.

Uber did not immediately respond Thursday to a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Wilson is awaiting trial in Prince George’s County Circuit Court on two counts of murder. In 1997, he pleaded no contest to robbery and was sentenced to five years in prison after having been charged with assault and using a firearm in connection with a carjacking, according to the online database Maryland Judiciary Case Search.

The children’s wrongful death claim is being brought by and with their mother, Carole Tchatchoua, against Uber Technologies Inc. and is being litigated in federal court based on the damages sought exceeding $75,000 and the diversity of state residency between the Frederick family and the San Francisco-based company.

The complaint alleges that the danger posed to drivers by Uber’s failure to screen passengers is compounded by the pressure the company places on drivers to accept passengers without question. For example, drivers who decline ride requests risk can be moved to the bottom of Uber pickup assignments in busy areas, such as airports, the complaint claimed.

“Uber drivers are left to put their safety at risk in order to earn a living,” Weber stated in the complaint.

“With little information provided to them with which to make a judgment call on the relative safety of accepting a ride, Uber’s failure to use its data analysis capabilities to screen passengers, and its failure to apply its own screening standards for drivers to the other party in the car, the passenger, drivers become vulnerable to the fate of Beaudouin Tchakounte,” Weber wrote. “Had Uber undertaken to apply its driver background check procedures to passengers as well or used its massive data analysis capabilities to screen out dangerous passengers, Mr. Wilson would not have been matched for a ride with Mr. Tchakounte and/or would not have been accepted as a passenger.”

Attorneys with Scarola Zubatov Schaffzin PLLC in New York are serving as Brown Goldstein’s co-counsel in the litigation.

The case is docketed at the district court as Carole Tchabert Tchatchoua v. Uber Technologies Inc., No. 1:20-cv-3028.

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