Insurance Law

Family sues Uber over death of girl, 6, says smartphone app violates state distracted-driving law

It hasn’t taken long for a test case to arise concerning the potential liability of technology companies for smartphone apps that connect private drivers with paying passengers.

The family of a six-year-old girl killed in New Year’s Eve auto accident filed a lawsuit against both the driver and Uber on Monday in San Francisco Superior Court. Among other allegations, it contends that the company’s UberX app violates California state law against distracted driving, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Syed Muzzafar, 57, the driver who fatally struck Sofia Liu and injured her mother and younger brother as they were in a crosswalk, was a contractor of Uber. He was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and failing to yield to pedestrians, although he has not yet been charged. His lawyer said Muzzafar is distraught over the accident and disappointed Uber has distanced itself from him since the accident.

The company declined to comment when contacted by the newspaper, but has said in the past that Muzzafar was not actually working for Uber at the time of the accident.

The California Public Utilities Commission requires companies like Uber to carry $1 million in commercial insurance that applies while drivers are “in transit to or during trips arranged through the Uber app,” the Chronicle explains.

It isn’t clear whether Muzzafar was interacting with the UberX app at the time of the accident. However, even if he was, the company almost undoubtedly had a rule against that, points out law professor Stephen Sugarman of the University of California-Berkeley. “I’m sure Uber will say that our policy is that you don’t look at your cell phone while driving. It’d be crazy if they didn’t have a policy against driving around looking at your cell phone.”

The family’s suit contends that Uber is responsible for the crash because its app is not hands-free and requires driver interaction. A driver “must respond quickly to a user request for service by physically interfacing with the app, thereby leading to distraction,” it alleges.

The wrongful death case includes claims for negligent hiring and supervision.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Internet car companies offer convenience, but lawyers see caution signs”

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