Uber car-for-hire debate (child death mentioned)

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Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103
Uber car-for-hire debate (child death mentioned)

The family of a 6-year-old girl killed by an Uber driver on New Year's Eve in San Francisco filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Monday against the company and the driver.

The suit could become a test case for the liability of technology companies in the booming ride-sharing industry. It alleges that the driver of the vehicle - an Uber contractor - was logged onto the Uber app at the time he fatally struck Sofia Liu, and was waiting to receive and accept a ride request.
The company, which takes a cut of every ride booked through its system, declined to comment Monday. In the past, Uber has said the driver, 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar of Union City, was not providing services on the company's basic UberX system because he did not have a passenger with him.

The suit alleges that even if that is true, the user interface used by Uber drivers to find fares contributed to the death of Lui, along with injuries to her mother, Huan Kuang, and 5-year-old brother, Anthony Liu.

Because drivers must consistently interact with the Uber app to locate and pick up riders, the app violates a California law that seeks to cut down on distracted driving, the suit says. Uber drivers "must respond quickly to a user request for service by physically interfacing with the app thereby leading to distraction," the lawsuit states.

It said the practice runs afoul of the state vehicle code, which says, "A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving."

The family's attorney, Christopher Dolan, said Monday, "Uber shares in the profits of its drivers and it must also share in the responsibility for the harms they cause." He said Uber had denied insurance protection to cover the family and the driver.

The family is suing for wrongful death, negligent hiring and supervision, negligence with a motor vehicle and infliction of emotional distress. The suit asks for unspecified damages.

San Francisco police said the crash that killed Sofia Liu happened at 8 p.m. when Muzzafar, driving a Honda SUV, failed to yield to the girl and her mother and brother as they crossed Polk Street in a crosswalk near Civic Center.
Muzzafar was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, police officials said. He is out of jail on bail and has not been charged.

Uber said it deactivated him as a driver after the crash.

Dolan also represented the family of Oakland teenager Jahi McMath in its fight with Children's Hospital after the hospital declared the girl brain-dead.

Uber sued over girl's death in S.F. - SFGate

Obviously the driver should be held responsible for this little girl's death, but do you think the company should be? If he were driving a standard taxi, the taxi service would be liable as his employer since drivers are considered to be "on the clock" whether they have a passenger or not. Uber is saying it should not be part of this lawsuit because this driver didn't actually have a passenger, so they don't consider him to be "driving for them" even though he was logged on and waiting for a call.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6567

So if you are in a car accident because you are messing with your GPS, is the GPS company libel? If you spill your coffee and burn yourself while driving and are in an accident, is McDonalds or wherever you bought your coffee libel? If you are in a car accident because you are distracted by a billboard you are passing is the billboard company libel? I do not see how this is different.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

The difference is that it's their job. They get assignments to pick up passengers on their cell phone, and the company makes a cut of what they earn. If a standard taxi driver was looking at his GPS and hit someone, the company would be on the hook because, as long as he's driving their taxi, they are liable for his actions. Uber wants to say, OK we're liable right now because someone's in the car, now we aren't because they got out, now we are again, now we aren't. It shouldn't work that way. He's driving for you, or he isn't. And especially since the interface is a freaking cell phone! Uber is putting their drivers in an illegal situation by making them look at their cell phone to get assignments.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1537

I am not sure how they are different from a cab company when it comes to liability? I would assume it is the same?

Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1686

"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

So if you are in a car accident because you are messing with your GPS, is the GPS company libel? If you spill your coffee and burn yourself while driving and are in an accident, is McDonalds or wherever you bought your coffee libel? If you are in a car accident because you are distracted by a billboard you are passing is the billboard company libel? I do not see how this is different.

It depends. Let's say a billboard company posts a very realistic billboard of a person getting ready to jump off. Something designed to be so distracting that it poses a danger to those who see it. There are regulations of billboards to prevent this.

As for McDonald's coffee, we've been over that on here before. McDonald's served coffee that was hot enough to cause 3rd degree burns. Hotter than industry standards. They were warned and they settled over 700 lawsuits for burns.

So it's not as black and white as you are trying to make it sound.

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

Yes, the driver and Uber should be liable.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

"mom3girls" wrote:

I am not sure how they are different from a cab company when it comes to liability? I would assume it is the same?

Yeah, you'd think it would be. And Uber & Lyft (another car-for-hire service) have stated publicly that they hold the same amount of liability insurance that is required for standard taxi services. If this little girl had been hit by an empty Yellow Cab there wouldn't be any question that the company was liable. The difference here is that Uber is claiming, since its driver didn't have a passenger in his car at the time of the accident, that he wasn't "working" and therefore his accident will not covered by their insurance. He was waiting for an assignment, and he was checking his cell phone (an illegal activity, but one which is required by Uber & Lyft) at the time of the accident. Uber's claim is essentially, that he was not a driver for them at that moment; he was a driver-in-waiting-for-work. And Uber made him a distracted driver with their driver/passenger cell phone platform. And I think it's bogus that they claim to not be responsible.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

Private insurance companies are getting wise to Uber & Lyft drivers who are driving for hire under a personal insurance policy. The insurance companies are refusing to cover accidents those drivers are involved in, and are cancelling policies of people they discover drive for one of these companies. There is rumor that one company even dropped someone simply for asking if she might be covered if she might drive for Uber.

Drivers for Uber, Lyft stuck in insurance limbo - SFGate