By Carlos Gonzalez of Rubenstein Law
New Year's Eve is usually a beautiful day full of hope and anticipation for the upcoming year. For a family of three, however, this day was like no other. Around 8:00PM on New Year's Eve, the family was hit by a vehicle as they crossed the street in San Francisco. The car accident left a young girl dead and injured her mother and brother. The driver was arrested and accused of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. In seeking relief for the wrongful death of the young girl and the hospital bills, the family is not only looking to sue the driver but also the company of a mobile application found on his cell phone.
The driver in this car accident was using the mobile application (commonly abbreviated as "app") called Uber on his phone. Put simply, Uber allows anyone with a car to be a taxi. Unlike a normal taxi company, Uber allows common people to use their own private cars to pick up riders that use the app to ask for a pickup. The driver that hit the young girl was said to be waiting for a call from a potential rider using the app. So far, it is easier to see the guilt of the driver because, after all, the driver was the one that hit the family. Deciding whether Uber should also be responsible, however, is not so easy.
Much like baking a cake, any successful lawsuit has necessary ingredients. One of the necessary ingredients is found if the family can answer "yes" to the following question: Is Uber responsible for the negligent actions of its user drivers? Uber, through its business model, answers this question in a loud "no". They claim that Uber is not a transportation provider, it does not employ any of the drivers using the app, and, more to the point, it does not accept liability for their actions.
The family will definitely try and use the fact that Uber requires so many manual interactions as a way to show that Uber should be responsible for the injuries of others. A recent investigative report by ValleyWag.com shows just how much manual interaction is needed to use the Uber app during a normal cab ride. The Uber driver needs to press certain on-screen buttons, like "Arriving Now", depending on the action she is currently doing. ValleyWag poses an interesting, albeit obvious question: "[D]oes Uber expect its drivers to approach a potential customer, pull over, tap 'Arriving Now,' and then pull back onto the road, every single time?" If they do not or if they reasonably expect to know that its users will not, then Uber is encouraging people to break the laws of using cell phones while driving. This will be a huge problem for Uber.
The family would have a much easier time answering the previous question if Uber was in fact the thing that it is not -- a traditional taxi company. For example, a traditional taxi company would be responsible for the negligence of the drivers if the negligence occurred within the scope of the driver's employment with the company. This is made easier if the company also owned the vehicle that was involved in the car accident.
Although the family is presented with a unique question, they are not alone in challenging Uber's position. A woman previously challenged Uber's stance after she was injured by a flying fire hydrant that resulted from a car crash where one of the drivers used Uber's app. It will be a matter of time before this question is answered by the courts.
It is important to know that one of the most important ingredients in a successful lawsuit is having a great attorney beside you. If you, or your family, have been injured in any type of car accident, please call Rubenstein Law at 1-800-FL-LEGAL. Our firm has offices in Miami-Dade, Broward, West Palm Beach, and Orlando.
Patrick Hoge, Family of Dead Girl Wants Uber to Pay, San Francisco Business Times, (January 6, 2014, 6:48 PM PST), http://m.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/2014/01/family-of-dead-girl-wants-uber-to-pay.html?page=all&r=full.
Sam Biddle, Uber Is Basically Training Drivers to Violate California State Law, VALLEYWAG, (February 6, 2014, 10:00AM), http://valleywag.gawker.com/uber-is-basically-training-drivers-to-violate-californi-1515942938?utm_campaign=socialflow_gawker_twitter&utm_source=gawker_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow.