App-based global taxi service Uber sued over fatal California crash

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 9:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:24am

The family of a young girl killed by a driver affiliated with Uber, a fast-growing global app-based taxi service, has sued the company, adding to its growing list of legal problems.

On New Year's Eve, Sofia Liu, six, died after she, her younger brother and mother were hit by a car on a pedestrian crossing in San Francisco.

At the time of the crash, driver Syed Muzzafar was logged on to the Uber X smartphone app and was waiting for customers, the lawsuit, filed on Monday, said.

Uber said after the tragedy that it did not involve a vehicle "doing a trip on the Uber system" and that Uber had "deactivated" the driver's account. The company declined further comment on the lawsuit.

Uber lets people summon rides at the touch of a smartphone button and has entered more than 60 markets, ranging from its home city of San Francisco to Berlin and Tokyo.

Leaked information last month indicated the company, which began connecting passengers with drivers about three years ago, is generating US$200 million a year in revenue beyond what it pays drivers. But mounting legal troubles and discontent among some drivers appear to match the fast growth.

On Monday afternoon, a handful of drivers gathered outside Uber's San Francisco headquarters to protest against its tipping policy and other issues.

One of the protesters was Douglas O'Connor, an Uber driver and a plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging Uber disadvantages its drivers by not allowing customers to add an extra tip to the all-inclusive fee it charges passengers. The suit is making its way through US federal court in California. Other charges dog Uber, including in Chicago, where cab companies allege it uses illegal practices including misleading marketing and unfair competition.

They have filed suit in federal court in the state of Illinois and cabbies in Boston have filed a similar case.

Separately, Uber faces allegations in California state court that it should pay to cover medical costs for a woman who suffered injuries including multiple herniated discs after an Uber driver hit her last year.

Uber X is a lower-cost version of the service, with drivers using everyday vehicles, rather than black limousines. Monday's lawsuit alleges Uber X drivers must respond quickly to a request for service using the company's app, which leads to drivers becoming distracted, in violation of California laws.

After the crash in San Francisco on New Year's Eve, Muzzafar was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and released on bail. He is also listed as a defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit.

His lawyer, Graham Archer, said the Uber app was running when the crash occurred but declined to discuss details. He said Muzzafar was distraught over Sofia's death.

"The lawsuit is the expected next step in the process of the family reacting to this tragic accident," Archer said. "From my client's perspective we understand and sympathise."