Three years ago the New York Times covered the tragic death of Sophia Liu, the first pedestrian killed by a negligent Uber driver. Uber asserted it could not be liable for the collision that occurred on December 31, 2013, because its driver was not transporting a passenger at the time of the collision. Uber’s assertion that it bore no legal responsibility, if successful, would have been devastating for the Liu family. The driver had only the minimum insurance on his personal policy and no other assets. The bill for medical services alone for the family exceeded $500,000.
When they first began operating, Uber and Lyft failed to carry adequate insurance coverage for their drivers and were not governed by basic safety regulations applicable to other types of paid transportation networks, such as taxis. Under the law, Uber, Lyft and other such application-based, rideshare carriers are called Transportation Network Carriers “TNC.”
This week’s question comes from Phillip B. in Mountain View who asks, “My girlfriend was riding in an Uber vehicle in Southern California when the car was hit by a truck that was changing lanes. The Uber driver did nothing to cause the accident. The truck never stopped and no one got a license plate number or other identifying information. She was hurt in the collision, has racked up medical bills and missed time from work. She is going to have a tough recovery time. At the time of the collision she was riding with a friend who had the Uber account. Can she seek compensation for what happened to her and if so, from who?”
This week’s question comes from Aimee K, from the Outer Richmond, who asks: “I have been an Uber driver for the past two and a half years. I heard that Uber entered into a settlement that stated that we are employees and should have been compensated more than we were. Is this true, am I going to get some money from this?”
Aimee, the short answer is yes there is a class action in which there is a proposed settlement but it did not establish that Uber drivers are employees.
This week’s question comes from Janice G. in San Mateo who asks “I was being driven home from the airport to my house in San Diego in one of those shuttle van services. After dropping off two others I was the last passenger. I had given the guy my address when I got into the van. The driver, a middle aged guy started creeping me out as he asked me about myself such as whether I was single, married, had a boyfriend, etc.
This week’s question comes from James T in Freemont who asks: “I was traveling in a limo in LA with a colleague when, suddenly, the driver blacked out, slumped forward, and hit a wall. I had to jump over the seat and steer the car off the road. I got banged up pretty bad in the accident but we could have been killed. It turn out that he has a seizure disorder. He told me that this hadn’t happened before while driving. He said he had been up late on a job the night before. He was vague as to whether the company knew about his disorder. What are my rights? Who is responsible for the harm caused to me? I’m in physical pain and this has been very upsetting. I’m even having nightmares.
James, your case presents many significant issues. But before I address these technical issues I want to say I can only begin to imagine the shock and horror you must have experienced when you saw the driver unconscious, hit a wall, and had to save yourself by acting as you did. You have a great survival instinct and obviously great reflexes. You handled a difficult situation expertly and as a result you saved three lives, including your own.
As the driver was transporting people for hire he is a “common carrier” under California law and, as such, owed you, his passenger “the highest degree of care.” This is significant as you and I, if driving our own cars not in exchange for money, owe our passengers a “reasonable degree of care.” Therefore a strong argument can be made that the driver knew that his condition presented a danger to his passengers and, therefore, he should not have put you into harm’s way.
To prove a case of negligence you must prove breach of a legal duty owed to you to a preponderance of the evidence standard meaning, simply, proving that it more likely than not that he breached the highest degree of care. Likewise, you would have to prove that any harm you suffered was more likely than not caused or exacerbated by the incident as well.
It appears to me that there is a high probability that you can establish negligence against the driver in that he not only violated the highest degree of care, he violated the reasonable degree of care standard for operating a vehicle, as he knew, or should have known, that he has a condition which could result in a lapse of consciousness. Likewise, if he was “exhausted” from lack of sleep (driving under such a condition is similar to driving drunk) he violates both the higher and lower standard. It is unclear whether he lied on his license application or to his employer about his medical condition but there too he would have an obligation to be truthful and an affirmative obligation of disclosure. I am of the strong opinion that liability against the driver can be proven. If he is found to have deliberately lied, or consciously put your lives in danger by driving when he knew he should not have (either he had been so informed by his doctor, he failed to take medication, or he was driving without sleep which might trigger his condition) then he may also be liable for punitive damages if you can show by clear and convincing evidence that he acted with a conscious disregard for your rights and safety.
An employer is responsible for its employee’s actions. Under California Labor Code Section 2802 an employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties. Therefore, the limo company should have insurance (under law limos must carry a minimum of $750,000.00 of insurance) for your injuries.
The driver’s doctor might also be responsible if she knew of the possibility of seizures or blackouts and did not meet her/his statutory obligation to notify the California Health and Safety Code Section 103900 mandates that physicians report patients over age 13 with these disorders to local health officers, who in turn transmit the reports (Confidential Morbidity Reports, or CMRs) to the DMV. If a doctor knew of this disorder and failed to follow the law, that doctor may also have some liability for the injuries which were caused.
Normally I would advise you to try and work this out directly with the driver and/or the driver’s employer. Given the complexity of a case such as this I suggest that you get legal advice. Obtaining the services of a contingent fee lawyer will allow you to obtain premium legal representation without making payments on an hourly basis. Contingent fee attorneys usually advance all costs of prosecuting a case and, upon successful completion of the case, recover the costs that t hey expended and take a percentage of the recovery, if any, and charge nothing if there is no recovery.
Rideshare company Uber recently filed a response in the Sofia Liu wrongful death case.
A wrongful death claim was filed against the company by San Francisco lawyer Chris Dolan on behalf of the family of Sofia Liu, a 6-year-old girl who was killed on New Year’s Eve when she and her family were run over by a Uber driver named Syed Muzzafar.
The lawsuit claims that Uber bears responsibility for the accident because the driver was on Uber’s application at the time of the crash.
Although the company admitted that driver Syed Muzzafar was one of its drivers, the company is attempting to avoid liability by claiming Muzzafar was an independent contractor and not on its application at the time of the accident.
“Uber and its affiliated companies sympathize with the Liu family and understand their desire for redress for their loss and their injuries,” Uber said in a statement. “However, the companies did not cause this tragic accident.”
The Dolan Law Firm handles rideshare injury cases in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, call us at 888-452-4752.
Most recently, multiple taxi and limo companies in San Antonio and Houston have sued the companies for violating local vehicle-for-hire ordinances.
Recent expansions in cities such as Cleveland have also drawn criticism due to safety and insurance concerns. The Ohio Department of Insurance issued a consumer alert advising would-be riders to use caution when deciding to use ride sharing or “transportation networking” companies.
“Ohioans considering these types of services should weigh all factors including any coverage gaps that may exist,” said Ohio Lieutenant Governor and Insurance Director Mary Taylor. “While the driver may have insurance, his or her policy may or may not provide all the coverage needed should an accident occur.”
UberX and Lyft operate by allowing people to become private chauffeurs using their own cars. Passengers hail these drivers using smart phone applications. Uber’s normal service uses professional drivers and UberX and Lyft use non-commercial drivers.
Uber has also started offering up to $100,000 for drivers between pickups to reduce concerns about liability caps. These insurance offerings were made in part due to a lawsuit filed by the Dolan Law Firm. That lawsuit involves a 6-year-old girl who was run over by an Uber driver who was between trips.
A pedestrian in Nob Hill was hit by a Lyft car last week. The accident happened on Friday and is one of many recent accidents involving ride-share services such as Lyft and Uber.
A passenger was reportedly in the car when it ran into an elderly woman around 1:30 p.m. on Friday. Venture Beat reports that the woman’s leg was fractured and that she was rushed to San Francisco General Hospital for treatment.
In another accident, an Uber driver was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter after hitting a family in the Tenderloin District on New Year’s Eve.
NBC Reports that 57-year-old Syed Muzaffar, of Union City, was arrested after fatally hitting 6-year-old Sophia Liu. The accident happened at the intersection of Polk and Ellis streets and also injured Sophia’s mother and brother.
Earlier this summer, Dolan Law Firm founding attorney Chris Dolan spoke at a rally against ride-share companies.
Dolan and others say that the insurance policies of Uber, Lyft and other ride-share businesses are inadequate to cover the personal injury costs of accidents. There’s also evidence that Uber and Lyft drivers are less safe than licensed cab drivers.
The Dolan Law Firm handles traffic accident cases in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area. If you or a loved one has been injured in a traffic accident, call us at 888-452-4752.
San Francisco attorney Chris Dolan recently spoke at a protest against so-called rideshare companies.
Rideshare companies such as Lyft have turned many car owners into smartphone-enabled cab drivers. Most licensed taxi drivers oppose these companies, calling them illegal and wholly unregulated cab services.
One of the biggest problems with rideshare companies is the lack of financial accountability for the traffic accident injuries that inevitably occur.
Many say that the insurance policies of companies such as Uber and Lyft are inadequate to protect passengers in the event of a crash. Others say that there are poor quality controls in place to ensure that drivers are properly trained.
“This is about the safety of San Franciscans and who is going to pay the bill when someone gets hurt,” attorney Chris Dolan said.
“What happens when a pedestrian gets hit?” Mr. Dolan asked. “Who is going to pay their bills? You, me, and the City and County of San Francisco.”
If you or a loved one has been injured in a rideshare traffic accident, contact the Dolan Law Firm online or by calling 888-452-4752.