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Claude Wyle
Claude Wyle
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Uber Should Be Held Accountable for the Death of Sophia Liu

5 comments

Syed Muzzafar, a 57 year old man, was arrested on suspicion of vehicle manslaughter in connection with the death of a 6 year old girl in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco this past New Year’s Eve. The information I have thus far is that Syed Muzzafar was texting and possibly also speaking on his cellphone at the time of this San Francisco Pedestrian death.  We need to determine if he was texting as a part of his job with Uber or if he was checking for possible fares. As the details emerge, I am confident that Uber’s denial of responsibility will not be successful.

In California, an employer is liable for the harm an employee causes to others while in the course and scope of their employment. And a master is responsible for the acts of its agents.

Muzzafar, a driver of the popular ridesharing service Uber, was turning right when he struck the girl crossing the street with her mother and older brother.

The Uber driver was taken into custody, and booked for vehicular manslaughter, gross negligence, and failure to yield to pedestrians.

While Uber said that he did not have passengers in his car at the time of collision, and they have deactivated his Uber account, I believe that Uber is 100% liable for the injuries and the death caused by Muzzafar.

One legal commentator Steven Clark, in a comment to NBC Bay Area stated: “Uber’s entire business model is setup to try to avoid liability in situations just like this,” Clark said. “The court is going to have to decide whether this business model shields Uber cab from liability, but just calling your drivers independent contractors isn’t going to be enough.”

Uber, who does not deny contracting with its drivers, does deny any responsibility in the matter, as the driver was an independent contractor, or a “hired gun”. I understand that Uber uses texts as a part of its dispatch system and that this driver at the time of this tragic pedestrian accident was in between fares. He was not off duty and was not using the car for his own personal use. He was in between fares and he needed to read his texts and to respond in order to work for Uber. This company can call itself a rideshare company and it can insist that its drivers are independent however if Uber is sending or receiving texts to their drivers while the drivers are on the road it is intellectually dishonest to say that the driver was not on the job at the time of this pedestrian accident.

If the company fails to disassociate itself from the New Year’s eve fatality, it could be only the beginning of its legal troubles.

Taxi drivers have already are demanding more oversight for Uber and other ride sharing services. At the San Francisco Police Commission they pushed for further restrictions, calling the rideshare services “illegal taxis”, andunderinsured for the liability of transporting passengers. The taxi cab drivers were dismissed from the meeting, as the Commission believes their concerns should be handled by another entity.

“There are taxi drivers who would like to kill off Uber and I think that would be terrible for residents and visitors in San Francisco,” said Supervisor Scott Weiner.

“I don’t think taking the rules for the cab industry and just putting them on Uber and other ride sharing services makes sense,” Weiner said. “These are different types of services.”

The theme here is accountability. I don’t know if the Uber cars have a minimum liability insurance policy, but they should certainly be responsible for anyone they are putting on the street to make money for the company, directly or indirectly. Cabs must carry a million dollar policy and a cab company has a strict policy regarding accidents and firing cab drivers. Also a cab driver has the highest standard of care and a cab company will take responsibility if the cab driver hurts someone. These Uber cars seem to be without accountability or control and although it may be legal, is it really such a good idea for the people who are put at risk of their potential bad driving?

I am far more concerned about public safety than I am about San Francisco’s taxicab drivers however I feel it is unfair for the official taxicab drivers to have to pay so much more for the right to drive an official cab, more for insurance and more for medallions etc. The rideshare companies are competing unfairly if they can provide the same service at lesser cost to the consumer all because the rideshare drivers have a lower overhead. Please tell me what you think as this is a local hot button topic.

 

Hello, I’m Claude Wyle, a San Francisco automobile and pedestrian accident attorney. Have an idea for a topic you’d like to see covered here? Feel free to contact me: cwyle@ccwlawyers.com or visit www.ccwlawyers.com

5 Comments

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  1. Brian says:
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    As a Lyft driver we are specifically instructed not to text or even use our phones or the app while the car is in motion. It is my belief that the driver acted on his own behalf if he was doing those things.

  2. beth says:
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    I love Uber, but someone will have to pay for this tragedy. The negligent driver clearly is the most responsible and should be the one who pays. That message will compel all drivers to stop texting while driving. If Uber is held liable, the message to drivers is that they may continue texting because Uber will pay. The answer is to require Uber drivers to have million dollar policies, or more, and keep the responsibility on the driver–personally. Understandably, the family wants the deeper pocket of the Uber company–who wouldn’t? But that won’t stop texting, which is what caused this tragedy.
    Moreover, Uber and Lyft need to survive because of the world-famous shortage of cabs in SF. I now feel safe at night anywhere in the City because I know an Uber will arrive within minutes. Ever tried to find a cab in a sketchy area after dark? Forget about it (unless you’re at a hotel.) Ever waited in vain for a cab to the airport and nearly missed your flight after repeatedly calling the cab company? Absolutely. Uber and Lyft were created by the cab shortage and bad cabbie behavior, so until those are fixed, Uber and Lyft are essential for city dwellers.

  3. Doug says:
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    I’ve heard that Uber’s insurance covers a driver when they’re transporting a passenger… and, of course, a driver’s regular insurance does not cover them So, I guess… insurance policies can be “switched on and off” throughout the day? Let me guess… they have an “app” for that?

  4. John D. says:
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    Since all of these rideshare companies and their drivers engage in rate evasion insurance fraud, not disclosing the commercial use of a vehicle to obtain a lower rate….can the RICO statute be used in these cases for treble damages?After all these companies all engage in interstate commerce.

  5. John D. says:
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    What a wrongful death under RICO? These ridesharing companies and their drivers are engaged in rate evasion insurance fraud all over the USA.