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Ride Service Uber Sued Over Girl's Death

By Brett Snider, Esq. on January 28, 2014 9:29 AM

Taxi-alternative Uber is being sued by a young girl's family after she was struck and killed by a driver on New Year's Eve.

Sofia Liu, 6, died after being hit by driver Syed Muzzafar, 57, in a San Francisco crosswalk. According to the family's suit, Muzzafar was allegedly logged in to Uber's smartphone app when he collided with Lu and her family.

Could Uber be held liable for the girl's death?

Was Driver an Agent or Employee at the Time?

Uber is a ride service company that has distinguished itself through its integration with smartphones. Users of the Uber service can hail and pay for a towncar all through a mobile app. The company also offers the lower-cost "Uber X" service, in which app users can request rides from a community of everyday drivers -- similar to the Lyft or Sidecar services.

The Lius' suit alleges that Muzzafar was using the Uber X app at the time he hit Sofia, and therefore was an agent or employee of Uber at the time of the fatal accident.

That's a significant claim, because employers are typically held legally responsible for the acts of their employees or agents if done within the scope of their employment. The Lius argue that Uber is responsible for Muzzafar's actions since he was using the company's app. According to Reuters, Uber released a statement following Liu's death stating that Muzzafar was not "doing a trip on the Uber system."

Uber X and other "ride-sharing" services are required by the California Public Utility Commission to carry at least $1 million in commercial liability insurance for each driver, precisely for this kind of incident.

Do Ride-Share Apps Create Distracted Drivers?

Another key allegation in the Lius' lawsuit is that the Uber app conflicts with California's laws against distracted driving. Since Uber X drivers are required to view the app and then promptly respond to requests for rides, drivers may spend time looking at their smartphones when their eyes should be on the road.

Breaking traffic laws which are designed to prevent injuries and deaths like Liu's -- like those for distracted driving -- can lead a court to find the driver's actions as negligent per se.

If the Lius can prove that Sofia's death was caused by Muzzafar's negligence, both he and Uber could be on the hook for damages in the wrongful death suit. Muzzafar was initially arrested after the accident, but he has posted bond and has not yet been charged, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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