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My Uber driver robbed me, so I took Uber to court and won

My Uber driver robbed me, so I took Uber to court and won

Hello Spicy Compatriots,

I know this is not typical on a business blog, but I want to share what happened to potentially help someone in a similar situation.

If you have followed my twitter account since December, you might know that I was robbed by my Uber driver.  He intentionally drove off with my backpack containing my brand new $2,000 laptop, a bunch of marketing stuff, my medicine, second cell phone, some clothes, and pretty much everything important I owned. Seven months later, the situation has finally been resolved.  I wanted to give everyone on the internet a rundown of what happened so they can hopefully prevent this happening to them, and if so you will know the steps I took to get back what was taken from me (kind of).

Also as this has to do with legal proceedings I tried to be thorough and detailed and the end result is kind of long. :/

To the story!

If you didn’t know, FYM Hot Sauce was the first sponsor for the professional DotA 2 team, “Team NP.”  If you are not familiar with DotA 2, it is a team video game that can be compared to action chess.  DotA 2 has had tournaments since its inception where more than $120,000,000 has been given away in tournament winnings.  Needless to say it is a pretty big deal as many of the players are now millionaires.  Every year there are 3 major tournaments, two smaller ones with a prize pool of $3,000,000, and the championship with a prize pool of over $20,000,000.  When Team NP (who had never qualified for a major tournament) made it to the their first major tournament, held in Boston I decided to go and support them.

The community had really rallied around NP and I wanted to give back to the fans, so why not give away a bunch of hot sauce?  From Portland, Oregon I flew Southwest which allows you 2 free checked bags.  I filled up 2 suitcases with hot sauce to the max of 50 pounds each.  I also filled my backpack with a bunch of sample sauces that I could carry on, as well as other merchandise like hats, stickers, and shirts.  All of this stuff was for giving away to the fans that supported the team.  Without fans, NP would have had one heck of a time getting where they did.

When I landed for my layover in Kansas City I got a call from my father.  He owns an accounting firm, and his internet died.  Before my hot sauce set a record on Kickstarter, I was an IT consultant for small and medium businesses.  I still do work for my father’s office and I do some volunteer IT work for a locaI women’s shelter.  We went through the process of calling Comcast together, and we ended up getting everything up and running again during my two-hour layover.  I was able to use my laptop from my phone hotspot to remote into the servers and make sure everything was hunky-dory before my flight to Boston took off.

My flights were awesome.  No turbulence, and I had a whole row to myself.  I was able to stretch my legs out and watch movies on my phone in comfort.  I thought it was so cool all the space that I had that I took a picture to post on Twitter.  While not a great image, you could definitely see my backpack under the seat.

I landed in Boston around 11 PM EST on Monday, December 5th, 2016, and went to get my checked bags.  Luckily there were no leaking hot sauce bottles.   I went to wikitravel to see the best way of traveling from the airport.  I was warned that cab drivers will frequently rip people off and charge them $50 from the airport, when it should not take more than $20.  I decided to call an Uber from my phone, the first time that I had ever used the service.  While wearing my heavy backpack, I carried my two heavy bags out to the limo pick up area to wait.

When my driver arrived in his hybrid Toyota Camry, I put my two suitcases into his trunk and carried my backpack into the backseat with me.  Since I had a good 20 minutes of driving, I decided to pull out my laptop and make sure that everything was still working at my dad’s office.  I was able to connect to the server and everything seemed to be running smooth. 

As we arrived at my AirBNB I slid my laptop back into my bag and looked up instructions on how to check in.  When we pulled up to the location we stopped in the middle of an uphill street, right next to another car.  It was a tight fit getting out of the backseat.   I looked around the unfamiliar street and told the driver that I would unload the suitcases to the curb then I would come back for the backpack in the backseat. 

Why did I make that decision?  My bag had about $4,000 worth of stuff in it, and it was heavy.  I don’t know who is walking up and down the streets in Boston in the middle of the night, but I figured that it would be safer in the car with the driver, whom I had all their information in the Uber app.  If someone tried to run off with a bag full of hot sauce in one of my other suitcases it would be awkward and ultimately not a huge deal; it was just hot sauce.  Who knows, maybe that thief would have been a customer one day.  A backpack is easy to grab and run off with while no one is looking. 

When I grabbed the suitcases out of the trunk I had to close the door so I could get them past the cars to the curb.  I had to take them to the curb as I was on the aforementioned hill, and with 4 wheels that don’t have locks I have to make sure they were not going to roll away.  There would have been no way to fit through the small opening walking sideways with the backpack on.  I was already shuffling with the heavy suitcases. 

As I was bringing the cases to the curb, unknown to me, my driver took off.  I did not hear him take off as his electric car was near silent.  I set my bags to the curb and when I turned around he was gone.

I took a look around and assumed he mistakenly left with my backpack despite me having told him I would be back for it.  This was my first Uber ride, and so I took a minute and tried to figure out how to message the driver to come back.  I had to Google what to do as I am a noobie.  I went to the lost item section in the app and submitted my info, and soon after the automated robot lady called me and told me she would connect me with the driver.  The phone went right to voicemail, so I left a message.  I took my remaining bags into my room then walked downstairs to wait for the driver to return.  After 20 minutes it was clear he wasn’t returning.

I called several more times that night and left several more messages.  The voicemail was odd as it said, “you have reached the voicemail of,” and then beeped to leave a message.  I had no idea if Uber was even connecting me with the right person.  I ended up staying up until 3 AM hoping that he would call me back, but then resigned myself to the fact that he may have gone home for the evening.  I called the emergency Uber line and told them that he had my medicine, and was told they would look into it.  I woke up the next day early and called him again, and left another message.  Around noon, after I had left several voicemails, an Uber rep got back to me.  I was told they talked with the driver and he said he never saw the bag in his car. 

It was at that point I realized that I had been robbed.  When I opened the bag and used the laptop and cell phone he must have seen it in his rearview mirror.  When I told him that I would get the bag in a second, that second he saw an opportunity and drove off.  Luckily my phone has awesome battery life and I had enough to find my way over to the police station. 

When I arrived at the station I told the officer at the front what had happened to me last night, and how my Uber driver robbed me.  The officer responded to me with, “What would you like me to do about it?”  I told him that I would like him to take my information and look into it.  I figured that maybe since I gave them all the information about who did it, including the license plate, that they could at least talk with the driver.  I submitted a report with the driver’s name, license plate, car make and model, and a description of what was taken.  I keep boxes of all the electronics that I purchase,I called my Dad in Portland and he was able to go grab my Surface box from my office and give me the serial number for the police report.  I thought maybe they could give it to pawn shops in the area to cross check if someone tried to hawk it.  I left the station after having the officer begrudgingly fill out the report, and I had little faith anything would come of it. 

At this point having not been charged for over 36 hours I needed to find a phone charger.  I had just upgraded to a phone with a USB Type-C charging port, and those aren’t exactly common.  I ended up going to an Apple store as they had just made everything in their laptops Type-C, but in typical Apple fashion they were $90 and that just seemed outrageous.  Not too far away a Microsoft store had a charger for only $30, so I bought that instead.

After a long stressful day, I was finally given the nutritional information for my new beer flavored sauces.  I had had Photoshop and Illustrator loaded up on the laptop along with my source files so I could finalize my new labels and get them off to be printed.  I had planned on finishing my labels that day, but with the robbery I had no way to get it done.  I ended up having to buy another laptop and download Creative suite to it. 

The laptop had a password on it and facial recognition.  The extra cell phone on the other hand had no security measures on it.  It had my google accounts loaded, but it was in airplane mode.  I figured if the thief was stupid they might connect it to wifi and my email would try and update.  I checked the IP addresses to see if anyone connected it and gave me an IP so I could get a location but alas, no such luck.

I kept calling and leaving messages on the voicemail of the driver.  I kept trying to get a hold of Uber support to do something.  Every couple hours I checked craigslist for people selling what was stolen.  I went around to tons of pawn shops looking.  Everything I tried amounted to nothing, and Uber kept responding with the same response, “We are not responsible for anything that happens in the car.  Drivers are independent contractors and we can’t make them do anything if they say they hadn’t seen your bag.”

I was struck by a bit of good fortune when I was walking to my room and I noticed outdoor security cameras.  I contacted the AirBNB host and they were able to get me a video of the driver leaving me as I was taking my bags to the curb.

I just didn’t buy that a company could just get away with that business model.  Hire anyone with a car, facilitate everything, and have no responsibility for what happens in the cars.  I looked up the rules for small claim lawsuits in Boston, found out that I was within the amount and took a trip to the courthouse.  I went to the wrong courthouse first, and then by the time I made it to the actual courthouse I only had time to grab the form and get some information.  I returned on Friday with the form filled out, but they didn’t want to accept it because I wasn’t from Boston and Uber is headquartered in San Francisco.  In order for a small claim to be filed one of the parties must reside in Boston.  It turns out that Uber had a small recruiting office right down the street, but I had to walk there to verify the location. 

I talked with a representative at the Uber office and he told me that I could contact lert@uber.com and talk to them about law enforcement matters to resolve this.  I sent an email on the spot and was told that they would only talk to the police.  I went back to the courthouse and filed a claim for $3,900 plus a filing fee of $100.  This included the cost of a plane ticket and lodging for a return trip and the contents of the bag.  I actually underestimated the value of the bag contents at that time, but oh well.

When I got back to Portland I was given a call from the detective who was assigned to my case.  She told me that there was not much that could be done but she would try and figure it out.  She talked with an Uber representative and I never heard back so I assumed the investigation amounted to nothing.  A couple weeks later I received a notice with a court date of March 3rd, 2017.

Shortly after this I got a call from an Uber representative at the headquarters.  She asked me if I could tell her the story of what happened.  I told her everything and she told me she would bring this to her superiors and get back to me.

We exchanged a couple of emails and I gave them a written account of what happened, and told them of all my evidence for the court case.  I forwarded Uber what I had for evidence.

So what did I have at this point? 

  • I had my log* from Google showing that I logged into my gmail account from a PC and cell phone while in Kansas City
  • I also had a log* showing that I logged into the office server while in Kansas City
  • I had those same logs* showing that I logged in to my email and my server from a PC in Boston during the time of my Uber ride
  • I had a video of the dude driving away as well as the app that proved I took the ride
  • A photo on the plane showing I had the backpack with me
  • Phone logs showing all the times I contacted Uber and attempted to contact the driver
  • Recording of me leaving a voicemail on mysterious mailbox

*All technical logs contained IP address and location information

They responded via email asking if I had time to talk about this again.  They had, “spoken with [their] team, and we're prepared to go to court, but we'd like to see if there's a way to resolve this without the unnecessary time and expense of heading to Boston.”  I had given them my account and evidence so I told them that they could cut me the check or I would see them in court.

I received a call a few days later from Uber, this time I was talking to someone a little higher up.  I told him the story again about what happened and he had some questions about my evidence. 

How did I have a video of the driver leaving? I happened to get lucky that there was a security camera on the street.

Why did I take a picture of myself on the plane that included my backpack? I thought it was cool that I had a whole row to myself and I wanted to share it with people.

The Uber rep told me that it was fishy that I happened to have such a preponderance of evidence, and accused me of setting the whole situation up to scam their company.  I told him that it was lucky in some respects, like the security video, but I had no interest in doing all of this to scam them; it was a waste of my time and money as well as an insult to my integrity.  I was then referred to the Terms and Conditions of the app which says that Uber is not responsible for what happens in the cars.  I let them know I had done my research, and just because they make that statement doesn’t mean it is true.  No matter how many times I proclaim that I am the King of England, at no point is it a true statement. 

At the end of the conversation he asked if we could reach a settlement and avoid court.  My response was that I wanted to get paid back for what was stolen.  They offered me $1,000.  I told them that would cover half the cost of my laptop and I would see them in court.

Soon it was time to fly back to Boston for court.  I made sure I was there an hour early, and watched shows on my phone until we were called.

When it was our turn I told the Clerk Magistrate what had happened.  When Uber started to talk a bunch of bologna came out and I wasn’t prepared for it.  The one good thing that he did was he did not deny the contents or existence of my backpack.

One point the Uber rep gave was that I should have heard the car driving away and chased after him. 

When I said that cars with electric drives are quiet and I didn’t hear him drive off, the clerk responded with, “Well I have an electric car and I know it makes noise.” 

Uber then made the point that they give far more protection for “lost” items than a taxi cab company.  When I tried to say that taxis have numbers and licenses that you could call dispatch about, the Clerk said, “I agree you will never get anything back from a taxi cab.”  The Uber representative said that their drivers are independent contractors and as such, they are not responsible for making sure that they respond to any phone calls, and actually had zero control over what they do.

I was frustrated at this point that the clerk was agreeing with him based on anecdotal experiences that he had had.  I didn’t have the evidence at this point to hand to him to refute these claims.  This was my first experience in this situation, and I wasn’t prepared. 

I spoke about how I tried to get information about the driver and riders so I could do investigating on my own and pass that information onto the police.  Uber directed the court to their website where they have it stated that they will give that information to law enforcement officials with a valid police report.  The detective in charge of the case had made contact, but I was not privy to that information.

Uber said that the driver had a good standing, but was very evasive when asked if he had taken any more trips that night.  The Clerk made him answer that there was only one more ride given.  This alluded to the possibility that the other passenger could have taken the bag from the backseat.

At the end of our hearing the clerk said that it was an interesting situation and he needed to think about everything and he would let us know by mail.  In the meantime, he asked me to get a copy of the police report and forward it to Uber so they could look into it more.

That was the end of the first hearing.  I had absolutely no idea how it would end up and was not particularly pleased with my performance.  For all the preparation I had done, I made some claims that I didn’t expect to be refuted, and I didn’t have documentation to back them up.

I reached out to the detective on my case for the information and report at that point.  I would hear back from her the next week.  I received the clerk’s decision that following week as well saying that Uber was at fault for 51% of the incident, and the judgement in my favor would have payed me a little over $2,000.

This is where it got crazy.

The detective in charge of my case sent me the police report.  She had contacted the official law enforcement department of Uber to get more information.  She gave Uber the date and time of the ride, as well as the license plate of the vehicle and name of the driver.  

The Uber department responded that they had no record of a trip from the vehicle with that license plate on December 5th, 2016, just after 11 PM, and the driver had not driven with them for 2 years.

I called the clerk who presided over my case and gave him that information, and he directed me on how to file a “motion for reconsideration” because that changed his opinion on the case drastically.

Everything was shady now.  I was under the impression that Uber would assist law enforcement, instead they obstructed.  The Police officer drove to the house to try and talk with the owner of the vehicle, but no one answered on multiple occasions and she was unable to get in contact with anyone as Uber was not at all helpful. 

I filed my motion, and a new court date was set for April 27th.  This time I would be prepared.  It was now a matter of principle for me, and I couldn’t let Uber get away with this behavior.

Back in Boston I was again at the courthouse an hour early.  There was some shuffling and we had to get a new clerk to hear our case, but eventually we were able to try our sides again.

I had to restate the entire story to the new clerk, including what had happened with the police.  I made a strong case for myself bringing up the deliberate unlawfulness by all Uber related parties. 

Why would my driver repeatedly ignore the phone calls from Uber?  They would not respond when I left messages, but the next day he responded to Uber directly to tell them he had never seen the bag.  In my opinion this was intentional as he knew there were no repercussions.

Why would Uber not have the information on the driver for the police?  Uber asserted that they don’t have the ability to look up the drive information of my trip with the information provided (license plate, car make and model, name of driver, time and date of trip, and pickup and drop off location of trip) as it was a violation of privacy. 

It was later asserted that they reached out to the police detective to clear this up.  They found the information and tried to contact the detective with all the information.  If you are curious as to when this happened, it was April 9th.  Uber did everything in their power to make the investigation successful and cooperate with the detective, on April 9th, 2017, four months after the incident.  They also only reached out to the detective with the correct information once they were caught obstructing the investigation.

Again the Uber representative brought up that I should have heard the car drive away.  I responded with the level of ambient noise on that night is unknown and unprovable.  What is provable was that by 2019 all hybrid and electric vehicles in the United States will be forced to make an audible noise at all speeds less than 19 miles per hour. I had printed out the press release from the NHTSA and had a copy of the 137 text of the regulations with me in PDF form. This regulation is estimated to prevent over 2,400 pedestrian related injuries because it is a common occurrence that people do not hear the electric drive motors. 

Uber’s main argument was that Uber Technologies is not responsible for items “left” in vehicles.  Their drivers are independent contractors and they have no control over what the individuals do, or how they act.

My argument was that Uber hires these “contractors” (read as employees) and at the minimum should give a reliable way to contact a driver.  This includes having a voicemail that is up to date with something more than a non-recording. If a driver was in a situation like I was in, I believed it showed malicious intent to ignore calls from Uber knowing that they were from a rider.  The intentional lack of response to me, but direct response to Uber customer service shows that they knew they could get away with stealing the backpack with all my electronics. 

I also argued that Uber lied to the police and made zero effort to cooperate.  The fact that they refused to look up and give correct information to the police about the current driver of car I rode in was a massive red flag.  Uber didn’t try and rectify this until after the matter had gone to court, 4 months after the incident where the evidence would be long gone.  They were a company that shows blatant disrespect to authority, operating illegally in cities and using technology to intentionally avoid law enforcement.

Since Uber did not deny the existence of the bag and its contents, and the evidence provided was compelling enough to show malicious intent by all parties related to Uber, the clerk found Uber 100% liable during the second trial.  I was awarded the full $4,000 in damages that I filed for.

My opinions on the situation:

Ultimately I am sad that the company that is trying to reform the taxi industry is so corrupt.  These last 6 months I have seen nothing positive in the news about them; they have had massive turnover including top management, they are accused of stealing self-driving technology, breaking strikes, and their culture is claimed to be toxic among other things. 

I do believe that the taxi industry is outdated.  The cars are not maintained frequently and they are impossible to hail.  Until Uber you were required to call a number and you never knew when or if a ride was coming.  Uber has spawned a market competition that has wonderful merits, such as trip planning and cost estimates, easy requesting of rides, and promoting cleanliness, but in their effort to dominate the market worldwide they have expanded far too rapidly while compromising the morals of an honest business.

I have no intention of ever using Uber again.  There are many competitors including public transportation, Lyft, Curb, ReachNow, Juno, Via, and the list keeps growing.  I can’t in good faith support a company that has such a blatant disregard for not only its clients, but also its employees.  While I am happy that Uber spawned a revolution in the transportation industry, they have proven themselves to be just as bad if not worse than the companies they sought to replace.

I hope this will be a positive reference for anyone that has gone through a similar situation and will let you know that there are alternatives when it seems like all is lost (or stolen).  Uber claims in their Terms of Service that they are not responsible for anything, and that you are unable to sue them.  I have proved that wrong in a court of law, and I encourage you to never give up fighting for what is right in all aspects of your life.  Hopefully this very longwinded article will cause at least a small amount of change.  If I can help one person then the time I put into this will have been worth it.

Now that my trial is completed, I will urge everyone that reads this to join the campaign for positive change, and #DeleteUber.