Famous Internet Car-Sharing Service Uber Goes to Court in Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, a family was struck by an Uber driver while crossing a crosswalk – the mother and brother were injured, while a 6-year-old was killed. On Monday, January 27th, the little girl’s family will file a wrongful death lawsuit against Uber, not just the driver, in Superior Court in California.
The case could define responsibility in the “sharing economy,” dominated by websites and mobile phone apps that act like vendors for “self-employed” drivers, room-renters, and other services.
Uber hires drivers under contract to act like a taxi service for as many hours a week as the driver wishes to be available. However, the drivers are not, strictly speaking, employees of the company, but independent contractors – therefore, responsibility for personal injury or wrongful death cases could shift to the individual and not the company.
The family’s attorney, Chris Dolan, argues that in this case Uber is liable in the wrongful death case, in part because the company makes some money from their drivers’ fares, and also because California law states that using phones or devices while driving is illegal unless the device is set up to be hands-free. Uber, which is based in Silicon Valley and therefore falls under California law, has put its drivers in the position of breaking the law, because the mobile app is not set up to be used hands-free.
“Uber shares in the profits of its drivers and must share in the responsibility for the harms they cause,” said Dolan in a prepared statement. “The use of the Uber app by drivers violates California laws designed to eliminate driver distraction. Drivers are constantly interacting with their mobile devices creating serious risk to both passengers and the community … Uber’s claims that they are not responsible for injuries caused by Uber drivers who are logged on to the system but not carrying a fare flies in the face of hundreds of years of law. New technology does not eliminate well-established legal principles.”
Sophia Liu, 6, was the victim of driver Syed Muzzafar, 57, on New Year’s Eve. Muzzafar was arrested following the child’s death on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a cross walk. He reportedly cooperated in full with police investigators, and later posted bail. Muzzafar worked full-time as an Uber driver, supporting four children on his income.
The family’s wrongful death lawsuit states:
“[Uber] derive[s] an economic benefit from not only having USERS transported by DRIVERS collecting a portion of the charge for transportation, it derives an economic benefit, and competitive advantage, by displaying the location of available vehicles near the USER’s location. USERS seeing the ready supply of UBER and/or Uber X vehicles have greater consumer confidence that they will be able to obtain one-to-one prearranged transportation services rapidly and are therefore more likely to be repeat customers… Therefore, regardless of whether a DRIVER actually has a USER in their car, is on the way to a USER who has engaged the DRIVER through the APP, or simply is logged on to the APP as an available DRIVER, UBER… derives an economic benefit from having DRIVERS registered on the service.”
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Wrongful Death Cases
Although many of the people we represent in these cases are from right here in South Carolina, our lawyers routinely take clients from throughout the Southeastern U.S. and, in certain types of product liability or pharmaceutical cases, from across the country as well. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed through no fault of your own, you may have a wrongful death case. Contact the South Carolina wrongful death attorneys at the Strom Law Firm, LLC today for a free, no-cost consultation today. 803.252.4800