Today, the San Francisco-based Dolan Law Firm filed suit against Uber, claiming wrongful death in the case of 6-year-old Sophia Liu, killed by an Uber driver while crossing the street on New Year's Eve. It's the first wrongful death suit against Uber in the transit startup's history, and comes after the company has vehemently distanced itself from the driver, who it claims was a mere contractor.
But the suit, embedded in full below, argues that Uber makes any driver potentially distracted and dangerous by design, violates California state law, and means the company shares responsibility with the driver:
UBER and/or Uber X DRIVERS must respond quickly to a USER request for service by physically interfacing with the APP thereby leading to distraction while a DRIVER monitors and/or uses the APP on their wireless communications device/smartphone/GPS. ...in violation of California Vehicle Code 23123 which, in subsection (a) states "A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving."
It's true—hop in an Uber and you'll see at least one smartphone next to the wheel. Before you're picked up, Uber drivers have to tap on the app to find and accept the fare, then rate you when it's all over. If you need to contact your driver before or after the ride, that's another layer of interaction.
The lawsuit goes even further, saying Uber shirked its responsibility to train drivers—like the one that killed Sophia—on how to more safely use the app. The crux of this case will be proving that Uber's app is actually an appreciable distraction, and a violation of state law—otherwise this is just a tragic traffic accident like any other. A rep from Dolan says Uber hasn't responded yet, but, naturally, expects the case to be groundbreaking:
We are really going to be pushing theories of agency, employment, etc. in the suit in getting in to Uber's relationships with their drivers.
That's a tall order! And for a personal injury lawyer, going after Uber probably looks like Christmas morning. Still, when something goes wrong at Uber, the company has historically been quick to pass the buck. This case might spur the first time they take serious responsibility, and in the worst imaginable context.