It hasn’t yet been a year since Will Good hailed an Uber for a late ride home to Somerville from his restaurant job in Boston and was taken on a swift journey that ended with the screechy crush of metal on metal.
His driver had swerved and slammed into a parked car, throwing Good against the passenger’s headrest and leaving him slumped in the backseat. Good instantly knew he couldn’t move, and believed he had broken his neck.
Good, 31, was left a quadriplegic in the accident. He wants his experience to be a cautionary tale and a catalyst for more oversight of the ride-hailing industry. On Tuesday, he filed a negligence lawsuit against Uber, saying it hired a risky driver with a spotty record and should have known he would put others in jeopardy.
Good’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, demands a jury trial and seeks $63 million in damages, including severe physical, mental and emotional injuries, extraordinary pain and suffering, and permanent disability.
A spokesman for Uber declined to comment due to pending litigation.
Good’s lawyers hope the lawsuit will catch the attention of regulators and state lawmakers so they might crack down on transportation companies they say pose as tech companies and skate safety measures, oversight, and liability.
The lawsuit says the Uber driver in Good’s April 30 accident had such a dangerous driving history dating back to 1996, including moving violations, crashes, at least 20 citations, and state imposed driver retraining, that Uber never should have hired him as a professional driver and bears responsibility for putting him behind the wheel.
“The consuming passenger here in Massachusetts is led to believe that Uber is in the business of vetting, screening, and holding its drivers to certain standards, when in fact, that’s really not true in many, many cases and that leads directly to what happened here.” said Good’s lawyer, Victoria Santoro Mair, of Sweeney Merrigan Law. “Now we have a 31-year-old man who had a life, and a career, that’s been completely derailed, completely ruined.”
Every day, Good said, brings new realizations of the things he can’t do — scratch at a stray eyelash, open his wallet, light a cigarette, play guitar, spin one of his 400 records on his turntable, or chop vegetables at the job he loved.
“It’s a level of incapability that I’m at,” Good said in a recent interview at his South Boston condo, where he moved after the accident. “That was kind of the real heartbreak part, just coming to terms with these things I hadn’t thought of yet.”
Good spent two months in the ICU at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by another two months in recovery at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown. Those months, in retrospect, were simpler, and easier to endure than the transition to home life, Good said.
“God came for me, and I said, ‘No,’ and that’s how I felt until I got out of the hospital,” he said.
Once at home, Good, who lives with his girlfriend and has two caretakers who share day and evening shifts, said he had more time to think about the things he wanted to do and used to do.
Good had found his niche working in kitchens and had a job he loved as a cook at UNI, a Japanese restaurant in the Eliot Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue.
Music had been a big part of Good’s identity. In his youth he had been singer and guitar player in a punk rock band called “The Old Edison” (a nod to the Edison Power Plant building in South Boston.)
Good still remembers the sick feeling of wanting “to throw up all day” after a doctor told him he would never play guitar or chop vegetables again.
Now, Good’s days are filled with waiting for a van with a lift to pick him up and take him to physical and occupational therapy, using the ADA compliant shower at his aunt’s neighboring condo, listening to books on tape, and watching trashy, syndicated cop shows. He looks forward to a friend’s visit to play chess.
“I don’t like the taste of feeling sorry for myself . . . so I try to fill my time with things instead of depression, but it hit when I got home, when I was alone,” Good said.
Good’s lawsuit will ask jurors to contemplate what Massachusetts voters also could be asked in November
: Are ride-share drivers employees or independent contractors?
A coalition, backed by the country’s major ride-hailing companies, is pushing two ballot questions that could put Massachusetts at the center of a costly fight over the legal rights of gig workers. The measure would allow Uber and other companies to continue classifying their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, while also granting gig workers some new benefits.
Uber and a coalition of other app-based companies in 2020 spent more than $205 million in California fighting a similar bid to keep drivers classified as independent contractors and won. A state judge later declared the proposition unconstitutional in August.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey simultaneously is suing Uber and Lyft from July 2020, arguing the companies are breaking the law by not classifying drivers as employees. The contractor classification deprives drivers of basic rights under state labor laws and absolves ride-share companies of responsibility for its workers, according to Healey, Good’s lawyers, and other opponents of Uber’s business practices
While it appears the majority of lawsuits brought against Uber have focused on employee and labor law, it is hard to estimate how many others cite negligence like Good’s lawsuit. Uber is widely known to impose strict confidentiality over such claims.
The police report in Good’s accident does not indicate a citation for the driver.
Uber, according to Good’s lawsuit, should have known that employing [this] driver “would result in jeopardy to the health, safety, and/or welfare to residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including plaintiff William Good.”
Good’s lawyers would like to see Uber and other ride-hailing companies further regulated and held to elevated oversight and safety standards.
“The product Uber is selling is the driving,” Santoro Mair said. “They can’t simply say, ‘well, you know, our business model is to draw the passengers into the car and charge them when they get out and then take no responsibility for what happens while they’re in the car.”
Good said he’s confident he’ll prevail with his lawsuit, but the end sum would not return what he’s lost.
“I would much rather go back to cooking and making 17 bucks an hour for 16 hours a day and doing something I love again than whatever number they offer or give me,” he said.