Uber files defense in New Year's Eve death of six-year-old girl

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Sofia Liu was struck and killed in a car collision on New Year's Eve.
Image courtesy of Sofia Liu funeral web page.

The wrongful death lawsuit against Uber for the New Year's Eve death of six-year-old Sofia Liu moved forward, as Uber filed its defense May 1. 

Uber's defense filing claims the driver that struck Liu, Syed Muzzafar, was not an Uber employee and he had no reason to interact with the Uber app at the time of Liu's death. 

The suit also claims that Muzzafar signed an agreement with Uber acknowledging those facts.

"Under that Transportation Services Agreement," the lawsuit states, "[Muzzafar] acknowledged that he was not an employee, agent, joint venturer or partner of Rasier (Uber's subsidiary) for any purpose; rather, he was an independent contractor." 

Liu was killed after Muzzafar collided with her and her family in the Tenderloin on New Year's Eve. Liu's mother, Huan Kuang, and Liu's brother, Anthony, were both injured but survived. The family, represented by attorney Christopher Dolan, filed the suit at the end of January seeking unknown damages. 

Back in March we asked Dolan if Uber offered condolences to the Liu and Kuang family. 

“Absolutely not. Basically their message is ‘it’s too bad,’ but its not their problem," Dolan told us. "They said, ‘jeez our hearts go out to them but we’re not responsible.’”

Many state officials have called out loopholes in Uber's insurance coverage, including, recently, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who issued a public letter to the CPUC calling for stricter insurance regulations. One in particular is the "app on" "app off," loophole. Uber contends when the Uber app is off that personal insurance should kick in and cover a driver (a claim the personal insurance industry has flatly refused). The lawsuit uses a similar defense, claiming Muzzafar alone was liable for the collision that night.

"At the time of the accident, Mr. Muzaffar was not providing transportation services through the Uber App," the lawsuit states. "He was not transporting a rider who requested transportation services through the Uber App. He was not en route to pick up a rider who requested transportation services though the Uber App. He was not receiving a request for transportation services through the Uber App."

Of course, Muzzafar did have the Uber app on waiting for a fare request, driving around as he waited for a fare request on the app. 

The lawsuit mentions this as well, saying he was looking at a "GPS-generated map with his location," and had "no reason" to interact with his phone. 

All told Uber makes 22 specific defense claims in the response, most fairly standard in these cases.

But in the truest sense of the new digital "sharing" economy defense number nine claims an app, by definition, is not liable for such claims.

"Plaintiffs' products liability claim is barred," the lawsuit states, "because the Companies primarily provide services, not products."

Two proposed state bills, AB 2293 and AB 2068, would each require commercial insurance for Transportation Network Companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. 

Uber's response to wrongful death suit from new year's even death of sofia liu by FitztheReporter

Comments

fast connection between the accident and Uber activity.

The fact that the driver sometimes acted as a freelance driver for an organization does not in any way infer that Uber caused the accident.

I smell opportunism, greed and ideological ambition here, but no tangible accountability.

Posted by Guest on May. 05, 2014 @ 8:42 pm

He was logged in to Uber and looking for a passenger, per the statements he gave directly to police while cooperating with them after the accident.

With taxi companies, that insurance covers them when they're looking for fares as well as when they have a fare in the car, whereas Uber's insurance only covered Muzzafar when he had a fare in the car, leaving this legal loophole.

Uber will ultimately be held responsible, should this go to court, as they are essentially a taxi company. But it will be a slog no matter what.

Posted by bassguitarhero on May. 06, 2014 @ 10:44 am

Suppose I am driving along the street checking the balance on my bank account at Wells, and I kill you.

Can you reasonably sue Wells?

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2014 @ 11:13 am

Checking the balance on your bank account has no connection with you being behind the wheel of a lethal weapon, so Wells is not involved. Checking the Uber app (1) is something that would normally be done behind said wheel, and (2) having drivers do it is part of the Uber business model. See the difference?

Posted by Frederick Guy on May. 06, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

using a phone or device while driving. He should pull over and then use it.

So what app he is using isn't material

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2014 @ 10:34 pm

Seems that both policies should be available for any successful wrongful death claim - the, ahem, "independent contractor"/driver's personal auto insurance policy (if any) and the UBER policy (if any).

What's the distinction again between a car for hire actively looking for a fare and having one in the car..?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 11:11 am

still hire independent driver/contractors to deliver the paper weekly?

Posted by Guest on May. 05, 2014 @ 10:28 pm

Do as SFBG says, not as SFBG does.

Posted by Guest on May. 05, 2014 @ 10:43 pm

Amazing how UBER wants to run around recruit people to enrich themselves in an insurance fraud scheme and walk away from any liability when it all goes wrong....just a big fantasy on their part

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2014 @ 10:28 am

workers take out their own insurance, pay their own SSI, tax and workers' comp, and so on.

That's why contract employees are so desirable.

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2014 @ 11:12 am

If you think Uber and all ride share services are just software then please start paying 20% to 28% of the $$ you make using Microsoft software to Microsoft.
Ride share is an unregulated taxi service. This case is a good example of how bad things can go when you have amantures using a mobile phone to do the job of a professional driver who has been trained not to hit people in the crosswalks. But its all good the new sharing world we live it. Who shares the liability????

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 5:53 am

Hmmm.

People were giving rides for "gas money" long before the internet

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 6:45 am

Über charged up to 8.1 times on New Years eve for surge pricing. We assume, the mid eastern driver was not out buying Chinese Fast Food. You'd think that with a valuation of 3.8 billion Ubers Political Payola Team would pay the Liu's off. Hope, the judge and jury gives 50-100 million of Amazon and Google's money away and jails Travis Kalnick, the biggest Charlatan, Sales Shallacker, Tech Turd - Ever!!!

Posted by Guest. Ken Neuhoff on May. 08, 2014 @ 9:16 pm

Uber will use all their financial might to try and deny any liability. If they loose this case the ramifications on a financial level alone, globally would indeed be massive. Uber will go above and beyond to avoid any such loss. Just look at the way Uber behaves and conducts itself around the world regarding regulation and illegal activities for which †hey have already been found guilty. New Years eve, the busiest and most lucrative day of the year for all taxi drivers. The Uber app is on and he is ready to do Uber work Uber software would no this.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 02, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

The driver is.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 02, 2014 @ 5:25 pm

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