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Airbnb users’ accident: gig economy back in the spotlight

It seems that the legal implications of the so-called gig economy could be tested again, just a month after the Employment Tribunal considered that Uber,...

...more than being just a technology platform (see Aslam and Others v Uber (2016)), was actually providing minicab services, such that their drivers had rights as workers.

‘Platform’ or agent and booking service?

In July 2016, a group of friends gathered in Brighton to celebrate a birthday, booking a flat through Airbnb.  Four of them crashed two storeys from a sea view balcony into a basement, suffering a variety of serious physical injuries.  Each was unable to work for several weeks and claims to have suffered financial loss by way of lost earnings, medical bills, counselling and physiotherapy costs.

Although no claim has yet been issued, the question again arises whether Airbnb is just a ‘platform’ or whether it was an agent for the property-owner and an accommodation booking service. 

Neither Airbnb’s insurer, nor those of the flat owner or freeholder, has yet admitted liability.

Is the Uber judgment relevant to Airbnb’s situation?

It would seem unlikely that a great deal of the reasoning in the Uber case can usefully be adopted in any litigation which follows.  There is an obvious distance between how workers’ rights might be engaged by a web-based platform on the one hand and, on the other, how Airbnb’s insurer might be required to indemnify a party against personal injury caused by negligence or defective premises.  Yet the parallels are obvious.

For the four injured people, it may only be hoped that the question may be resolved without recourse to litigation.  If it cannot be, the question of how this aspect of the gig economy engages English law will be fascinating and potentially of major significance.

Graeme Kirk / 8th Dec 2016


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