At 8 p.m. on December 31, 2013, 6 year old Sofia Liu was walking in a crosswalk at Polk and Civic Center in San Francisco with her mom and younger brother when she was struck and killed by an Uber driver. Uber is a ride-sharing company that provides “car service on demand” via a smartphone app. Wherever Uber provides service, simply launch an app and Uber will automatically locate you and connect you to the closest driver. Within minutes a driver will pick you up and get you to your destination. There are several ride-sharing companies providing car services on demand, including Lyft and Sidecar. Uber has been growing and innovating beyond typical taxi services by promising quick pick-up and drop-off, as well as delivering Christmas trees and even kittens.
When the driver struck little Sofia, Uber stated he was “not employed by Uber at the time of the accident because he did not have an Uber customer in the car with him”. Since he was “between fares”, Uber claims they are not responsible for the death. However, an attorney representing the family of Sofia is filing a wrongful-death lawsuit against both Uber and the driver alleging that the driver was an Uber contractor using Uber’s app at the time of the accident. Furthermore, the attorney claims that the driver was “texting while driving” using Uber’s app to prepare for his next fare, causing him to be distracted.
Uber is declining comment over the lawsuit, but it seems like the attorney’s strategy is to associate the driver with Uber simply by the fact that the driver was logged into Uber’s app. This will take the discussion about if and how to regulate start-up services like Uber to the next level. Are the Uber drivers too distracted by technology in the car making them unsafe to be on the road? That will be the key question for a judge or jury to answer. In the meantime, San Francisco has one of the highest rates of pedestrian-vehicle collisions in the nation, so watch out for yourself out there! At least one San Francisco Supervisor seems to be “on the case“.
By the way, according to Uber, the driver that struck little Sofia has been “deactivated” as a driver in their system.