The parents of a girl killed in a car accident involving an Uber driver have sued the on-demand car service in a case that could help determine who is responsible when something goes wrong in the nascent "sharing economy."
The plaintiffs in the case, Ang Jiang Liu and Huan Kuang, are seeking unspecified damages resulting from the death of their 6-year-old daughter, Sofia Liu, who was hit and killed last month by a driver employed by Uber. Sofia Liu's brother, Anthony Liu, was hit and injured and is also named as a plaintiff. The suit was filed Monday in the San Francisco Superior Court.
The suit alleges that the underlying nature of Uber's business is in violation of California's hands-free cellphone laws because drivers must use the company's app to monitor and accept ride requests from users.
Uber and other services, such as Sidecar and Lyft, promote their technology as an alternative to traditional modes of transportation. Instead of fighting for a taxi on the street, users can open the app and hit "request" right on their smartphones.
Taxi unions have challenged the apps for taking away business, while authorities are still trying to figure out the best ways to regulate the services. Monday's case could answer related questions around liability.
The case follows an incident this past New Year's Eve in which defendant Syed Muzzaraf, who was employed by Uber at the time, hit and killed Sophia Liu and also injured her mother, Huan Kuang, and brother, Anthony Liu.
After given the signal to walk, the family crossed an intersection in downtown San Francisco, and Muzzaraf's car turned the corner and struck the three of them, according to documents filed Monday.
The suit holds Uber at fault for the accident, as well as Muzzaraf, citing his distraction as a "substantial factor." Muzzaraf was arrested on charges of vehicular manslaughter and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.
Uber, the suit said, was negligent in the development and implementation of its software, the suit said. The software as designed would lead drivers, including Muzzaraf, to be distracted or inattentive while driving, it said. Muzzaraf was not adequately trained by Uber either, the suit said.
The plaintiffs allege that Muzzaraf was logged into Uber's app at the time of the collision and therefore was working for Uber at the time, waiting to accept a ride.
"The defects in the app and/or GPS interface were the direct and proximate cause of harm to all of the plaintiffs including the physical and emotional injuries suffered by Huan Kuang and Anthony Liu and the wrongful death of Sophia Liu and the injuries that flow therefrom to all plaintiffs," the suit said.
Uber declined to comment on the case Monday. The company pointed to an earlier statement that said the incident did not involve a vehicle or driver performing a trip on Uber's system. Uber has since deactivated Muzzaraf's account.
Graham Archer, the attorney for Muzzaraf, said his client "was working for Uber" at the time of the accident. He had previously dropped off a fare and was waiting for another request at the time of the accident, he said.
Christopher Dolan, the plaintiffs' attorney, could not be immediately reached for further comment.
The California Public Utilities Commission decided last September to classify companies like Uber as "transportation network companies," requiring that they fulfill various requirements to keep drivers and passengers safe.
The new rules said that the companies should require a minimum of US$1 million per-incident insurance coverage, but only for vehicles in transit to or during a trip.