Uber Sued Over Death of 6-Year-Old Girl in San Francisco

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A memorial at the intersection of Polk and Ellis streets in San Francisco, where a 6-year-old girl was struck by a car and killed on New Year's Eve. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)
A memorial at the intersection of Polk and Ellis streets in San Francisco, where a 6-year-old girl was struck by a car and killed on New Year's Eve. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

A San Francisco lawyer is filing suit against ride-service company Uber in connection with a New Year's Eve incident in which a driver for the firm struck and killed a 6-year-old girl at a Tenderloin street corner.

Lawyer Christopher Dolan says (by way of The New York Times and others) that his planned filing today in San Francisco Superior Court is the first wrongful-death action ever filed against Uber, a leader among what regulators call "transportation network companies." The San Francisco-based firm also faces at least two other personal-injury lawsuits in the city related to accidents that have occurred over the past 10 months.

As my colleague Jon Brooks has reported, the Dec. 31 accident involved driver Syed Muzaffar, a Union City man who drives passengers as part of the Uber network. Muzaffar came to the city on New Year's Eve, his lawyer, Graham Archer says, with the express intent to drive passengers for the company's UberX ride service and had already completed one trip.

Dolan's lawsuit (embedded in full below) picks up the story there:

19. ... [A]t just before 8:00pm, HUAN KUANG was walking home in San Francisco with her two children, ANTHONY LIU, who was 5 years old, and SOFIA LIU, who was 6 years old.
20. They approached the intersection of Polk Street and Ellis Street. When the light was green for them to walk, they began to cross Polk Street within the crosswalk.
21. As they were in the cross-walk, with the signal green for them to walk, a vehicle driven by Defendant SYED MUZZAFAR turned right from Ellis Street and collided with HUAN KUANG, ANTHONY LIU and SOFIA LIU.
22. The collision caused the wrongful death of SOFIA LIU, and caused serious and significant physical and mental injuries to the other Plaintiffs in this action.

Muzaffar was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter.


After the accident, Uber quickly acknowledged that "a partner" had been involved in the accident and was equally quick to say that the partner wasn't working for the service when he struck the pedestrians, a statement intended to distance the company from liability. But Muzaffar was logged on to the Uber app and awaiting another customer, his attorney says, meaning that in essence he was engaged in company business and should be covered by the company's $1 million liability insurance policy.

Dolan contends in the suit filed today that Muzaffar was not only logged on to the app at the time of the accident, but was "viewing, monitoring and/or interacting with his wireless communications device/smartphone/GPS at or near the time of the collision." The complaint alleges that Uber's app requires drivers to violate the California law that seeks to address distracted driving by banning the manual operation of mobile phones, GPS devices and the like.

The suit also takes on Uber's suggestion that it has no liability because Muzaffar was not in active service at the time he struck Sophia Liu. The complaint notes that, like any other startup, the company's business model depends on attracting more users. To be able to deliver on its promise of prompt service, the suit say, the company needs a "significant number" of drivers available to provide rides. "Therefore," the suit says, "regardless of whether a DRIVER actually has a USER in their car, is on the way to a USER who has engaged the DRIVER through the APP, or simply is logged on to the APP as an available DRIVER, UBER, and/or RASIER LLC and/or RAISER-CA LLC and/or Does 1-10 and 21-30 derives an economic benefit from having DRIVERS registered on the service."

Dolan also represents the family of Jahi McMath, the brain-dead Oakland teenager who last month went to court to fight a hospital's attempt to remove her from a ventilator.

Here's the lawsuit in a version uploaded by The New York Times:

Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org or (415) 553-2176.