Uber has settled with the family of six-year-old Sofia Liu who was killed by one of their drivers on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco. At the time of the accident, the driver was logged into the Uber app on his phone, but he was not currently carrying any passengers. Uber originally tried to argue that this meant they were not liable since the driver was not providing services at the time of the accident. The court disagreed with Uber and found that they could be held liable for the negligence of one of their drivers even if that driver was not currently transporting any passengers.
This lawsuit comes at a time when Uber is facing many legal proceedings to determine the status of its drivers. Uber currently treats drivers as independent contractors instead of employees. However, the California labor commission recently ruled that an Uber driver qualifies as an employee. This means that Uber has to reimburse that driver for expenses accrued in the course of employment duties. This ruling only applies to a specific driver that brought the complaint; however, it could indicate a shift in how states view Uber drivers.
The Liu family’s attorney said that Uber practices directly violate the state vehicle code by requiring Uber drivers to tap the screen of their phone at least once to accept a fare. The state vehicle code prohibits drivers from using cell phones while driving in an effort to curb distracted driving.
The California Public Utilities Commission began requiring Uber and other ride-sharing companies to carry a minimum of $1 million of coverage per incident in commercial liability insurance for all of its drivers. However, there is some ambiguity in this rule since it does not clarify whether job-related activities such as checking fares are included. With this ambiguity, an individual harmed by an Uber driver may be out of luck if the driver was not either carrying Uber passengers or in transit to pick up passengers.