Uber Technologies Inc., the app-based, on-demand transportation service, was sued for wrongful death by the parents of a six-year-old child killed last month by a car linked to the company.
The parents of Sofia Liu sued Uber and the driver who hit the girl and seriously injured her mother and brother as they crossed a street on a green light on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint, filed yesterday in state court in San Francisco, is the first wrongful death suit against Uber, Christopher Dolan, the family’s attorney, said in a statement. The case could become another setback for the company as it strives to convince regulators that its service is safe. Uber has faced criticism in some cities for using drivers who don’t have taxi or limousine licenses.
Uber said Jan. 1 that the driver was “a partner of Uber” who wasn’t providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident.
“This tragedy did not involve a vehicle or provider doing a trip on the Uber system,” the company said. Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Uber, said the company had no comment on the lawsuit.
The San Francisco-based company, which raised $258 million from Google Inc. (GOOG)’s venture-capital arm and other investors last year, valuing the company at $3.5 billion, Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick said last year in an interview. The company connects its registered drivers with riders through a mobile-phone application that is also used for credit card payments. The company, founded in 2009, takes a cut of the fares booked through the system.
The driver in the Dec. 31 accident, Syed Muzaffar, 57, of Union City, California, was logged into the application, had previously picked up a rider and was waiting to be contacted by another rider when he turned into the intersection and failed to see the family in the crosswalk, said Graham Archer, his attorney.
“He is absolutely distraught,” Archer said in a phone interview. Muzaffar was arrested at the scene and released on $300,000 bail. The accident is under investigation and the San Francisco District Attorney’s office hasn’t decided whether to charge Muzaffar, Archer said.
Alex Bastian, a spokesman for District Attorney George Gascon, didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the case.
Archer said he disagreed with Uber’s interpretation of its involvement and that the dispute will be resolved in court.
“If Uber’s position is correct, then they as a company are allowed to externalize the costs of doing business to the people in the streets around their drivers,” he said.
The use of the Uber app by its drivers in transit violates California law prohibiting drivers from using mobile phones unless they are hands-free, Dolan said. Uber has control over its drivers because they are required to apply to the company, have their vehicle inspected and pass a company-conducted driving and criminal history background check, according to the complaint.
The family claims the driver was logged on to the Uber application when he struck the three, and the accident occurred because he was distracted, according to the complaint.
Besides wrongful death, the Liu family made claims of negligence and seeks unspecified damages.
Dolan alleged Uber is denying insurance protection to cover its driver and the Lius since there was no passenger in the car when the accident occurred.
“These companies are only viable when people look at the app and see these empty cars,” Dolan said in a phone interview.
Airbnb Inc., a website that lets users rent out their homes, announced plans in 2011 to offer a $50,000 property protection guarantee after a host had her apartment vandalized by visitors.
The case is Liu v. Uber Technologies, CGC14536979, California Superior Court, San Francisco.
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