Syed Muzzafar, the Uber driver.
The family of a six year old girl killed by an Uber driver in a Polk Street crosswalk on New Year's Eve has filed suit against the ride sharing company, seeking damages for what it calls the wrongful death of Sofia Liu. The suit alleges that the driver, Syed Muzzafar, was logged into Uber's dispatch app at the time of the crash and was waiting to receive a pick up request. The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages.
The case provides a chance to clarify the uncertain legal area in which Uber—and other ride sharing companies—operate. Although they are clearly responding to consumer demand, they also raise questions about legal responsibility that have not been definitely resolved. Sadly, it may take this tragic death to provide that much-needed clarity.
The case is an unprecedented attempt to force Uber to accept broader legal liability for its driver. The company has previously said that because at the time of the crash Muzzafar was neither driving a passenger or had accepted a ride request, that he was not providing services through the company. According to the San Francisco Business Journal, the suit is the first wrongful death claim made against Uber since the company's formation in 2009.
The firm maintains that it is technology company, not a transportation one, and that therefore it cannot be held liable for the actions of drivers using its platform. This argument is conceptually similar to the one by which ISP's are legally shielded from liability from the actions of their users. However, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ISPs may not financially benefit from the actions of their users or have knowledge or infringements. Uber, on the other hand, both profits from the drivers and, through its app, knows their locations. All of this is still a theoretical morass—one that stands a strong chance of being drained soon.