Texas country artist Rich O’Toole filed suit against Uber last week following a February wreck in which the singer-songwriter fractured a vertebra.
“I broke my C6 in my neck,” he told the Houston Press last week. “I had to have emergency surgery to put me back together.”
O’Toole says he blacked out during the accident and briefly woke up in the back of an ambulance, en route to the hospital where a $200,000 surgery was performed.
“It put me into shock,” he says of the accident. “My heart rate fell below 25 beats [per minute].”
At the hospital, two titanium rods were placed in O’Toole’s neck, and the doctors told him he may experience pain for the rest of his life.
“If it happened 30 years ago, he wouldn’t be walking,” says Michael Patrick Doyle of Doyle LLP, whose services the singer-songwriter enlisted after the accident.
According to the suit, O’Toole requested the Uber on February 25 in Amarillo. It was the first day of his press tour supporting his sixth studio album, American Kid. He was going to a restaurant before the concert.
“Apparently [the driver] got lost… he stopped in the middle of the highway to fiddle with his app, and they got rear-ended,” Doyle says. “Rich was there in the backseat, and he woke up in the hospital.”
“He was going the wrong way down one-way streets, stopping to fix his app and finally just stopped on the freeway,” O’Toole says. “Hell of an Uber ride.”
The suit alleges that the artist’s career was derailed by the accident. Uber declined to comment on the pending litigation.
“I basically released the album from a hospital bed,” O’Toole says. “No one likes lawsuits, but this put us [the band, record label and crew] out income-wise for six to eight months.”
Less than a month after he underwent surgery, the country musician was scheduled to headline the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s World's Championship Bar-B-Q Contest. He also had upcoming gigs opening for the Josh Abbot Band and Willie Nelson.
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“I spent three years making this record,” O’Toole says of American Kid. “We had a whole month — 30 radio tours, press and news stations — all lined up, and that was our first day on tour when I got in that Uber.”
“This was going to be his crossover album, a new chapter in his career,” Doyle says. “They basically had to cancel everything for a few months. And once you cancel everything abruptly, getting back on the circuit is a bit of a challenge.”
Doyle says O’Toole is working to get his career back on track as quickly as his doctors will allow.
“It took a lot of begging and pleading,” Doyle says of O’Toole’s return to touring. “You would think there’d be a little sympathy, but there ought to be a song: ‘There’s No Sympathy in the Music Business.’”
The lawsuit alleges some negligence on Uber’s part, specifically in the way it categorizes drivers as independent contractors.
“The legal term is 'respondeat superior,'” Doyle said. “What that means is that it’s your guy. It’s your employee.
“Uber always says, ‘It’s not our guy, we’re just a matchmaker, kind of an e-Harmony on wheels, and we’re not responsible for anything those guys do,’” Doyle continues. “There are other lawsuits pending, but it hasn’t been fully established that [Uber] is on the hook for those guys.”
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Doyle hopes this case could set a precedent and protect others who ride with Uber in the future. Assuming it remains in Harris County, Doyle hopes to get a trial within 12 to 14 months. For his part, O’Toole remains optimistic about his career.
“We’ll bounce back,” he says.
The suit, below, was filed July 25, and damages sought exceed $1 million.