Ang Jiang Liu lost his six-year-old daughter on New Years Eve. She was hit and killed by an UberX driver in San Francisco, although the driver wasn’t performing an Uber-ordered ride at the time. The little girl was killed; her five-year-old brother and mother were also hit and injured by the UberX driver, but they survived. UberX is the cheaper option for hailing rises with the Uber app.
Now Liu is suing both Uber and its UberX driver, Syed Muzzafar, for wrongful death and negligence. Liu alleges that Muzzafar was “operating his vehicle utilising the Uber app” when the accident took place, just before 8 p.m. on Dec. 31. The Liu family was crossing the street and approaching the intersection of Polk Street and Ellis Street at a crosswalk. Liu says they had the right of way when Muzzafar made a right-hand turn and hit them.
Uber is taking a hands-off approach to Muzzafar. The company said it deleted him from its system so he couldn’t accept future rides. Its insurance policy also does not cover him in this particular situation.
The lack of insurance coverage makes some sense. UberX is a more affordable service than Uber’s traditional UberBlack or SUV services. With UberX, anyone with a driver’s licence can sign up to become a driver. Uber also vets the drivers’ via background checks and vehicle inspections. The drivers have to have their own insurance plan, just like any other car owner. When they’re performing rides for Uber, UberX’s insurance policy kicks in. When they aren’t, their personal insurance kicks in. This keeps UberX drivers from getting free car insurance.
UberBlack and or SUV drivers are technically commercial drivers. They aren’t employed by Uber either, they’re just dispatched out to passengers via Uber’s app. The black car services that employ them cover their insurance plans.
One of Liu’s complaints is that the UberX driver who hit his daughter was interacting with the app while driving, which is something that could violate a law in California. The California Vehicle Code 23123 says drivers can’t use phones while driving unless the device is meant for hands-free talking and listening.
“The nature of the app and its interface is both visual and tactile,” the lawsuit states. “Therefore, drivers must monitor their wireless communications device so as to be aware of the location of other Uber and/or UberX vehicles … the app provides texting and phone calling and instant messaging between the driver and the user … [This] would be in violation of California Vehicle Code 23123 which states “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.”
Uber’s app requires little physical interaction on the driver’s part. When a nearby Uber user wants a ride, the app pings the driver who then has a few seconds to push a button that either accepts or rejects the ride. Other than that, there isn’t much physical number-punching to distract Uber drivers.
Uber issued a statement shortly after the New Years Eve accident. Here it is again:
Our hearts go out to the family and victims of the accident that occurred in downtown San Francisco last night. We work with transportation providers across the Bay Area, but we can confirm that this tragedy did not involve a vehicle or provider doing a trip on the Uber system.
Our policy is to immediately deactivate any Uber partner involved in a serious law enforcement matter. For that reason, we urge the police to release information about the driver in question as soon as possible. If the driver is a partner of Uber, his or her Uber account will immediately be deactivated.
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