Uber is one of the most well-known transportation network companies around the world. The company has expanded to over 60 countries, and the estimated value of the company has skyrocketed to more than $62.5 billion. Uber developed and now markets and operates a mobile app in which consumers can submit a trip request, similar to a taxi cab app, on their smartphones. Uber drivers also have the app, in which they receive ride requests from consumers that they can choose to pick up and transport with their own vehicles.
Despite its success, Uber has generated opposition and controversy due to its involvement in numerous legal proceedings, now including a wrongful death lawsuit. The general issue, up until this lawsuit, has been whether or not Uber contracted drivers are independent contractors or employees. More importantly, though, Uber has been challenged in their answer to the question of liability when an accident occurs and an Uber driver is involved, but not transporting a passenger.
Fatal Accident Introduces Another Question
Sophia Liu, a six-year-old little girl, died after a confirmed Uber-contracted driver of an SUV struck her in a San Francisco crosswalk on New Year’s Eve. Uber, however, has stood firm in denying any responsibility for the girl’s death, stating that, “this driver in question was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident.” The loophole in this situation is that Uber’s insurance does not cover drivers when they are not transporting passengers, even if they are driving to pick up the next passenger.
Does Uber hold any of the responsibility in this type of situation? And, if so, how much responsibility is Uber held to? The answers to these questions will most likely be determined by the courts.
The Accident & Injuries
Just before 8:00 p.m., at Polk and Ellis in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district on New Year’s Eve, Sophia and her brother were crossing the street with their mother. At that same moment, SUV driver and confirmed Uber contractor, Syed Muzzafar, did not yield to the pedestrians who had the green light as he turned right into the crosswalk and struck the mother and her children. All three were transported to San Francisco General Hospital, where Sophia died, her mother was listed in critical condition with life threatening injuries, and her brother was expected to survive.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit
At the time of the tragic accident, the Muzzafar was logged into the Uber X app and available to provide rides to potential passengers. The wrongful death lawsuit asserted that Uber was liable for the little girl’s death, not because Muzzafar was logged into the Uber app and available to provide rides to potential passengers, but rather because of the defective and distractive software design of the Uber app. The plaintiffs asserted a novel cause of action, arguing that Uber’s technology distracted drivers, because it required drivers to look at the screen, as well as use their text messaging and cell phone. The Liu family argued that Uber’s technology violated numerous vehicle codes which were implemented to protect people from injury and death due to distracted driving.
The question of whether or not Uber was liable for the death of Sophia Liu and her mother and brother’s injuries and pain and suffering should have come to light in a courtroom under the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Sophia Liu on January 27,2014. However, the lawsuit (Ang Jiang Liu, et al. v. Uber Technologies, Inc., San Francisco County Superior Court Case No. CGC-14-536979) was settled out of court, so we will never know what the court would have decided, and the family has requested the outcome of the settlement be kept hush. The complaint sought damages for not only the wrongful death of Sophia Liu, but also the injuries sustained by the little girl’s brother and mother, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and punitive damages.
The Uber Argument
As it has in all accusations and complaints against the company, Uber has denied any liability in the death of Sophia Liu and the injuries that her mother and brother sustained. Uber’s Terms of Service were conveniently crafted to absolve Uber of any and all liability for accidents that are caused by Uber contracted drivers. While the courts did not get the opportunity to issue an answer on the Sophia Liu case, it will be interesting to see how Uber’s electronic Terms of Service waiver of liability holds up in future cases.
The statement Uber posted on their blog ended with an update that stated: “We thank law enforcement for the quick release of information. We can confirm that the driver in question was a partner of Uber and that we have deactivated his Uber account. The driver was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident. We again extend our deepest condolences to the family and victims of this tragic accident.” The implication that Uber was not liable for the New Year’s Eve accident, due to the fact that the driver was not providing services at the time, is clear in their statement.
The Liu family also alleged in their lawsuit that Uber advised them to file a claim with Muzzafar’s insurance company to receive compensation for their injuries and medical bills. However, interestingly enough, his insurance company denied the claim. The insurance company stated that the policy that Muzzafar was carrying specifically stated that driving for profit was excluded from coverage. This contradicts Uber’s claim that they require drivers to purchase their own commercial auto insurance, as well as provides an additional $1 million over the driver’s insurance coverage.
A lawsuit against Uber is an uphill battle, considering the loopholes that the company has tried to slip through. If you have been injured in an accident involving an Uber driver in Indiana, you are going to need an aggressive Indiana auto accident lawyer who will fight for the compensation you deserve. Call the law offices of Rowe & Hamilton to discuss the details of your case.