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California family seeks damages from Uber after crash

A California family is asking for damages for the wrongful death of their six-year-old daughter who was hit and killed by a commercial driver. The driver is an independent contractor for the smartphone app Uber, which helps people call a private car or taxi to pick them up. The family says that at the time of the crash the driver was using the Uber application to see if there were any requests for a ride in his area and that as a result the company should be held responsible for the crash.

This case involves several legal issues that intertwine in a unique way in this case, all centering around whether Uber in some way contributed to the car crash or if the driver was technically working for them at the time of the crash. The first issue is the trickier of the two, since it is possible that by having the application open, drivers are violating California’s distracted driving laws which prohibit the display of a screen in the driver’s field of vision while they are in motion. By that measure it seems that Uber did contribute, since drivers must use an application on a smart phone to obtain passengers through the service. However, upon closer inspection it is not clear that using Uber requires drivers to have the application on and in their field of vision when they are between fares and not using the system’s GPS, since they could potentially pull over and stop driving when looking for a new fare.

The second issue is whether the driver was working for Uber at the time of the crash, which is questionable as well since he did not have a paying passenger at the time. However, if he was using the application and attempting to secure a new fair, that issue could be argued the other way.

This case will have a big impact on Uber and other similar companies, which are growing in popularity but exist in somewhat of a grey area in the law because they are so new.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Uber sued over girl’s death in S.F.,” Kale Williams and Kurtis Alexander, Jan. 28, 2014.

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