This week’s question comes from Angela T., who asks, “A Yellow Cab crashed into a group of pedestrians in front of my office the other day at Sansome and Sutter streets in the Financial District. It was terrible. The cab jumped the curb and smashed into pedestrians and a newsstand causing massive injuries. Who is responsible: Is it the driver, taxi company, owner of the newsstand or The City?”
Angela, first, if you were a witness, call the police and let them know that you have eye-witness testimony. As a lawyer handling these types of cases, eyewitness testimony is crucial in making sure justice is served.
As far as this specific collision is concerned, there are multiple factors to be considered. Thankfully, in San Francisco, most cabs are outfitted with “dash cams” that record both the inside and outside of a vehicle as well as its speed during operation.
In a very similar case — a collision in which a taxi, traveling along Folsom at the intersection with 3rd Street, left the roadway, went up onto the curb and struck a young girl in front of her father, causing a serious brain injury — we were able to use the dash cam to demonstrate the negligent precollision behavior of the driver. The video evidence demonstrated that the cab driver was exceeding the speed limit and traveling in the wrong lane while speaking on his cellphone (calling his prior female passenger the “C word” to a colleague). His distraction, combined with the other vehicle making an improper lane change, caused the collision. The video evidence was damming and led to a multi-million dollar settlement.
Often, in high traffic areas, like this intersection at Sutter and Sansome, there are many office buildings near by that have cameras on their exterior. Our office building does. Efforts should be made to locate any video and preserve it. Sometimes, but not always, the police will obtain and secure this information. Our firm has provided video evidence in multiple cases including the capture of the image of a suspect who had just committed homicide.
The most direct answer to your question “who is responsible” is the driver and Yellow Cab. This cab had the “YoTaxi” app. This is a real time app used by drivers and passengers to arrange for transportation just like Uber and Lyft. This should provide an exact route map of the cab, second by second, allowing reconstruction of the speed through a distance and time analysis.
The YoTaxi app, like the Uber and Lyft apps, has increased the likelihood of taxi drivers causing both vehicle and pedestrian collisions. While Uber and Lyft drivers can’t scan the roadway for “street hails,” (calls for service from those on the street), and may only pick up those who have prearranged transportation through the app, taxis can pick up hails and must, therefore, scan the sidewalks for the raised hand of a potential fare.
Now, in addition to looking for street hails, taxis must monitor their app. Some reports concerning this collision indicate that the taxi driver was looking at his app at the time of the collision. This driver distraction is unacceptable. All apps of this type should have audio prompts rather than distracting visual queues. If use of the app played a factor in the collision, the app developer may also be potentially liable.
As far as the newsstand is concerned, a French company, JCDecaux, installed those as part of a deal with The City where they would provide the newsstands and public restrooms in exchange for the right to post advertising on these conveniences as well as other round, green, podiums throughout The City. If placement of the newsstand contributed to the injuries by creating a foreseeable hazard of pedestrians being crushed, JCDecaux may be held liable and share in the responsibility for the damages caused by the collision.
About ten years ago, users of a Bank of America ATM, on the corner of 11th and Market, were seriously injured when a taxi jumped the curb and pinned the pedestrians against the wall. Liability was attributed not only to the owner/operator of the taxi but also the owner of the building and ATM — Bank of America — was found to have contributed to the injuries and held responsible for their portion of the harm caused to the pedestrians.
On a side note, last year Yellow Cab, facing several personal injury judgments in the millions of dollars, went bankrupt leaving the injured parties without a source of recovery as Yellow did not have vehicle insurance for their cabs. Yellow now carries $1 million of insurance.
As you can see, these cases can be quite complex and a party injured by a taxi cab, or other transportation provider such as Muni, Uber and/or Lyft, should promptly contact a trial lawyer to analyze the facts of the collision and determine not only the strength of the case but, also, who are the potential culpable parties.
By attorney Christopher B. Dolan, owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email Chris questions and topics for future articles to firstname.lastname@example.org