Man who hit cop on I-126 was Uber driver 7/5/16

Michael - Cleveland

Well-Known Member
Man who hit cop on I-126 was Uber driver, lawyer says

A driver who struck a Columbia cop on Interstate 126 in May was logged in to the Uber app at the time of the crash, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

Officer Pete Conklin received many get-well cards from local school children
after he was injured in May.Glen Luke Flanagan [email protected]

Lt. Kelley Hughes told The State on Tuesday that the driver – Jason Bigby, then 28 years old, of Columbia – was logged in to the ride-sharing app when he struck Pete Conklin, a 28-year-old officer with the Columbia Police Department.

If they move forward with the suit, it could be precedent-setting, according to Joseph Seiner, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s law school.

“It would have dramatic impact in the state of South Carolina, for sure,” because it would define an Uber employee, Seiner said. Each state has its own definition for what constitutes an employee and an independent contractor. Still, a South Carolina case would be watched elsewhere, too.

Seiner is a labor and employment expert who has researched extensively whether Uber drivers are employees or, as the company has long maintained, independent contractors as part of a ride-sharing network. He said that other lawsuits have been filed against Uber but that he isn’t aware of any quite like this potential case.

The key issues in Conklin’s case, Seiner said, are whether the driver is considered an employee or independent contractor under state law, whether the driver was acting in the scope of employment during the incident and whether the driver acted negligently.

Hewett said Tuesday that a private investigator the firm hired spoke to Bigby last month and that Bigby told him he was logged into the app – and that he was driving for Uber. The question is whether they can sue the company or just the driver.

“He was sent out just to try to get some photographs of the car that was involved,” Hewett said of the private investigator. “He located the vehicle, which was at Mr. Bibgy’s home, and Mr. Bigby spoke voluntarily to him.”

That was on June 24, Hewett said. The investigator told the law firm the vehicle was repaired at that point and that there was an Uber sticker on the back.

Efforts to reach Bigby and Uber were unsuccessful Tuesday. It was unclear if Bigby had an attorney.

Hughes said no charges have been filed against Bigby.

Uber admonishes drivers on its website “... you’ll be driving a personal vehicle, which means you’ll at least need to have personal auto insurance.”

Hewett acknowledged that the law firm will be treading new ground if they file suit.

“I don’t know if there have been any court of appeals ruling or South Carolina Supreme Court ruling holding Uber responsible – or not holding Uber responsible – for the conduct of its drivers,” Hewett said. “This might be a novel case here in South Carolina.”

Meanwhile, Conklin hasn’t been able to return to police work. His left arm was seriously injured in the crash – and he’s left-handed. He said the scarred part of his arm might look ugly but that the real damage is under the skin.

“A lot of the issues are all underneath,” Conklin said. “It’s just destroyed in there.”

He has gone through three surgeries so far, along with a root canal. He said he thinks the impact caused his jaw to snap shut, hurting his teeth.

At the time of the crash, Conklin was responding to what he described as a fender bender that happened near a disabled vehicle on the bridge.

He said drivers were coming through without paying attention, so he called dispatch to get a truck to bring a sign to help control traffic, but no one was able to bring that out. Before he was hit, Conklin said, he was sitting in his vehicle waiting for the tow trucks to load up the crashed vehicles. He spotted a car coming up behind him fast.

“I made a decision to get out of my vehicle because I did not want to go through my windshield,” Conklin said.

But the driver swerved, Conklin said, and struck him. “The road was covered in blood,” he said.

Now, he’s working to get back on his feet. He’s doing three physical therapy sessions a week, he said, and just a couple of weeks ago closed on a house in Irmo. He credits his fellow officers and the community with keeping him positive throughout his recovery.

“When I was in the hospital, some teachers had sent a stack of cards that the kids had written (with) pictures and different messages to me,” Conklin said.