Class action lawyers are looking for taxi drivers to take on Uber in Victoria

Photo: Al Seib /Los Angeles Times/Getty

Class action lawyers Maurice Blackburn are looking at launching a compensation claim against ride-sharing service Uber seeking damages to the taxi and hire car industry over the four years the disruptive digital business forced its way into Victoria.

The Victorian Hire Car Association (VHCA) has asked the law firm to investigate the potential for class action, alleging that Uber caused “extensive loss and damage” to taxi and hire car operators and licence holders between January 2013 until mid- 2017 while operating unlawfully.

Canada is the only other country where similar legal action for industry damages has been sought.

The Victorian Government only reached an agreement to legalise the service in June this year following negotiations with the crossbench for support.

A compromise on initial plans by the Andrews government for taxi and Uber users to pay a $2 surcharge per ride as part of the $494 million compensation package for hire car and taxi operators saw that figure halved to a $1 levy. But the industry argues the compensation does not go far enough and asked the law firm to see whether it can mount a case for damages against the US-based ride-sharing service, which has come into regular conflict with authorities as it rolled out globally.

Over the past 12 months Australian states and territories have legalised the ride-sharing service after initially fining Uber drivers for operating illegally.

In Victoria, a high-profile legal case involving an Uber driver convicted of operating illegally was overturned on appeal last year.

Maurice Blackburn Class Action Principal Ben Slade said the class action could involve up to 6,000 taxi and hire car drivers and owners in Melbourne and he anticipates “strong interest” from them.

“It’s no secret that Uber’s entry into the market, in many cases, has had devastating consequences for the livelihoods of existing licence holders and drivers in the Victorian taxi and hire car industries,” he said.

Slade said owners and drivers paid tens of thousands of dollars to be part of a closed market when Uber began to operate without a licence.

“If our investigation reveals that Uber’s entry to the market involved unlawful conduct, there may be grounds for a class action to recover losses on the part of those affected,” he said.

The law firm has set up a registration site for potential claimants in the class action here.

Registration is open until December 22, 2017.

The proposed class action is being backed by Harbour Litigation Funding Ltd.

Business Insider has sought comment from Uber Australia on the proposed legal action.

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