The lawsuit over the death of a six-year-old girl could prove to be the last straw that buries app based company Uber. Six-year-old Sofia Liu died after she was hit by driver Syed Muzzafar as she and her mother and younger brother were on a cross walk in San Francisco on New Years Eve. Sofia’s mother and brother were also injured in the accident. Muzzafar may have been using the Uber app at the time of the incident.
Uber has tried to distance themselves from the crash saying that as Muzzafar did not have a passenger in his vehicle when the accident happened, they were not to blame. However, he was logged into the Uber system and thus on the clock when the incident happened. A statement from Uber released just after the accident said that it was not involved in causing the crash and has since deactivated Muzzafar’s account. Uber has stated that drivers who use the app are independent contractors rather than employees. This action distances them from any problems drivers may encounter. Uber creator Travis Kalanick has been called aggressive, even by silicone valley standards, and there is talk that Uber did not have enough research put into it to ensure the safety of all those involved.
The app, that took off rapidly in the last few years, has been used extensively in its hometown of San Fransisco as well as in far-reaching places like Tokyo and Berlin. It allows customers to use their smart phones to summon a ride with one touch, rather than standing on the street hailing cabs. Some are questioning whether Uber breaks California law by distracting drivers. To accept a fare, drivers must be looking at their smartphones. California law states that all drivers can only use phones configured for “voice-operated and hands-free operation when operating a vehicle.” Thus as Uber is not hands-free capable, they are in breach of the law. Lawyer for the grieving family of Sophia, Christopher Dolan, stated that the app has been set up in a way that is distracting to drivers. Cabbies are always looking out of their vehicles to the streets for potential fares. Uber drivers are looking down at their phones.
This lawsuit for six-year-old Sophia is just another straw on Uber’s back. Problems are mounting for the company, as a long list of charges has been brought against them. Uber describes itself as similar to online auction page eBay, as it provides the set up between the buyer and seller, but it cannot be liable for the interaction between them. But unlike eBay, which operates in the relative safety of cyberspace, Uber is out on the streets, where real people are likely to be injured by careless driving.
Despite assurances that extensive background checks are carried out on all potential drivers, it has been uncovered that Muzaffar had a previous charge for reckless behavior behind the wheel. Uber stated in response that the charge was over 10 years old and Uber partner Hirease was only allowed by law to go back 7 years. This calls into question the safety of passengers, as well as pedestrians. While Uber has implied that their background checks are harsher than those of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), a spokesperson from the SFMTA stated that background checks should include a person’s entire adult life without limit.
Other charges brought against the app company are coming from the drivers themselves. Uber customers pay via credit card, and although tips are included in the fee, these do not always see their way back to the drivers. Customers of the app are also complaining over price hikes on public holidays, during rush hours or during bad weather. These hikes can be as much as three or four times the normal rate. In Chicago rival cab companies have filed charges against Uber for underhanded marketing practices and misleading information. In New York, Uber was made to issue an apology after it booked numerous cars from rival app Gett and then cancelled the orders, all in the name of wasting time and occupying rival vehicles. A woman in California is also attempting to charge Uber for her medical bills, as she suffered major back problems after being hit by an Uber driver last year.
All in all, the latest lawsuit over the death of six-year-old Sophia could be the last straw for Uber, or at least set them back legally. Driver Syed Muzzafar is said to be extremely distraught by the accident.
By Sara Watson