Uber Troubles

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Uber is being sued over the death of a six-year-old girl who was killed on New Year’s Eve.

The suit could become a test case for the liability of technology companies in the booming ride-sharing industry. It alleges that the driver of the vehicle – an Uber contractor – was logged onto the Uber app at the time he fatally struck Sofia Liu, and was waiting to receive and accept a ride request.

The piece follows one earlier this morning by The New York Times in which it calls founder Travis Kalanick “brash and aggressive even by Silicon Valley standards.” While the ride service has moved into 60 cities in four years, it has also managed to irritate a lot of users.

As the NYT points out.

Uber and its abundance of imitators represent a new stage for technology companies. These businesses directly insert themselves into the physical world, arranging on-demand transportation, meals or even clean laundry in exchange for a sweet commission. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, which thrive in the safe confines of cyberspace, these start-ups live on the streets. READ MORE HERE.

Filed under: Mobile, Today's Mission

14 Comments

  1. John

    Any claim should be met from the driver’s insurance company. To bypass that normal procedure signifies that this is more a political gesture than a genuine request for compensation.

    It’s an important principle of the sharing economy that the tech companies operate only as intermediaries, and have no direct responsibility for what the parties actually do.

    • C. Russo

      Sharing, my ass! Uber wants all the benefits of a taxi company but none of the liabilities, expenses or even rules. That’s not sharing, that parasitism.

      • John

        I prefer to let the people decide how they want to do business with each other. Problem?

        I’ve used CraigsList a few times to organize a ride-share. Does anyone seriously think that CL are responsible if a rideshare goes wrong?

        Anyway, it turns out this case was filed by Christopher Dolan – a well known ambulance chaser. There’s your real parasite.

        Case dismissed.

        • landline

          An advertiser is different from an agent. Sharing is a misnomer. These taxi web application companies are shifting the risks from themselves to their employees, even if they refer to them as contractors.

          The driver in this case was in the process of using the Uber application to find his next fare when he killed the little girl and injured her brother and mother while they walked in the crosswalk.

          This shows the unspoken secret of the new tech consumer companies–take advantage of the economic precariousness of its employees (contractors) and skirt regulations that its competitors must follow. The law will catch up to the deceptive business models of these taxi applications and short-term rental agencies.

          It is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. It worked for the tech company private bus providers as they used public bus stops illegally for years, giving them leverage as they negotiated a capitulation with the MTA. We’ll see if these taxi companies will get away with the same abuses.

          • John

            But the entire reason why businesses have moved over to the “contractor model” is because regulations have become excessive for the traditional model.

            The relationship between Uber and their drivers is less like, say, Muni and it’s drivers, and more like how you might call a plumber to fix your toilet. You are “hiring” him to do the job but you are not his employer and, if the toilet falls on his head while he is working on it, you don’t have to compensate him. Nor does CriagsList or Yellow Pages or Yelp or whatever intermediary you used.

            It’s the same situation with AirBnB. When I rent a room or flat through AirBnB, the key business relationship is between me and the guest. I find my guest through AirBnB but that is a technicality. Before it existed I found guests through CraigsList and, before that, from newspaper ads or through realty agents.

            It’s a shame about the kid but I don’t think you should politicize that death by somehow trying to use it to undermine a fundamentally new, popular and exciting business model that benefits millions of people.

            Accidents happen and, even if it can be proven that the driver was distracted by a mobile device, that is the driver’s fault. We all know we should pull over when we get or make a call.

          • landline

            Your argument is full of holes. An advertiser like Craigslist provides a different service than an agent/employer like AirBnB or Uber/Lyft so their legal responsibilities and liabilities differ greatly.

            Of course, businesses are shedding costs and redefining “employees” under the “new” economy. That’s what they do to maximize profits. Doing so doesn’t relieve them of their liabilities and responsibilities just because they say so.

            A traditional taxi company would step up and take responsibility if one of its drivers were in a similar accident. They carry the proper insurance and don’t hide behind the fact that their drivers lease the cabs in order to avoid liability. Almost certainly, the cab company would fire the driver like Uber did, but doing so does not allow it to skirt its obligations under the law.

            The way these taxi web application companies operate is another example of the race to the bottom for the broader community.

            Your plumber analogy also falls apart. In that case, the homeowner is like Uber, the plumber is like the driver. If the plumber injured a house guest while working, surely the plumber and the homeowner could both face legal action. Also, licensed contractors must carry the required bonds and insurance and don’t avoid legal responsibility while they are driving to and from jobs or are on break.

          • John

            You’ve refuted your own point there, landline. The driver carries insurance and that insurance will pay out for any legitimate claim if the driver is found to be at fault.

            That is the correct way to handle such matters. And in fact, I suspect this lawsuit will be resolved by the driver’s insurance. That’s how these things work.

            It’s going to be a stretch to find any fault with Uber since, despite you evidently wanting it to be true so much, Uber was simply a go-between. The real business transaction is between the driver and the passenger.

            Moreover the victim here wasn’t even a passenger, which weakens the case against Uber further. Materially this accident was no different from any other where no intermediary is involved. Cohen is just grandstanding, as he always does, and looking for some deep pockets.

            You want enterprises like Uber to go away so that businesses will be over-regulated and over-taxed, not realizing that it is precisely those regulations and taxes that drive people to the sharing economy in the first place.

            The founding fathers knew all about breaking free of excessive regulations and taxes. Maybe you should brush up on their writings?

          • landline

            Who is Cohen? The driver is probably under insured as a livery driver. Uber is a cab company. The customers pay their fares to Uber who pay a commission to its drivers, even if the drivers own the vehicles. Uber can claim that it does not play a role in this instance all it wants. Eventually, a jury and/or judge will decide.

            Uber faced a similar situation last year when one of its drivers hit a fire hydrant that severely injured a pedestrian. In that case, she had to sue the driver and Uber because the driver’s insurance was insufficient.

            I never claimed that the driver had no responsibility, just that his employer, Uber, also has legal responsibility.

            A traditional taxi company would have no problem paying out damages. These cases will go a long way in properly defining the relationships among the companies, the drivers, customers and the general public.

            How can you claim that there is no intermediary? The money transaction is between the passenger and Uber, not between the passenger and the driver.

            Also, a pedestrian has the same legal recourse as a passenger. Why do you think otherwise?

          • landline

            Information from the Department of Insurance about potential insurance gaps for taxi service web applications and their drivers: http://www.insurance.ca.gov/0250-insurers/0300-insurers/0200-bulletins/bulletin-notices-commiss-opinion/transnetwkdrvrs.cfm

          • John

            Sorry, I meant Dolan not Cohen. I got my slimeball lawyers mixed up. My bad.

            If the driver doesn’t carry adequate insurance then that is a problem, in this case or generally. But that is something that can easily be fixed by Uber changing their policy to maintain insurance records on file, in much the same way as mortgage banks have a copy of the home insurance on a property they are lending on.

            But I come back to the fact that the material contract is between driver and passenger. Uber provides a booking interface and a payment system, but it’s really hard to credibly claim that that has anything to do with a freak accident.

          • ClaimsAdjuster

            Uber checked the driver’s insurance policy, knew that it was invalid because it was non-commercial but allowed him to become one of their “partners.” This is gross negligence. Uber knew an accident like this would happen but flooding the streets with uninsured cars is their business plan. They are liable.

  2. nutrisystem

    Uber is culpable and is going to pay big time. Their excuses are laughable and only make them look more sleazy.

    Central to Uber’s business plan is the interaction with a teeny handheld UI while operating a (potentially) deadly motor vehicle. It doesn’t matter that their “contractor” did the actual murdering, Uber set up and owns the system that made it reasonably likely to happen.

    This horrible whole-family-mow-down is just the tip of the iceberg, I have no doubt hundreds of horrific injuries have resulted from this hipster “disruptive” company.

    I’d LOVE to be on this jury so I could bury this arrogant criminal enterprise.

    • John

      And that blatant bias is exactly why you would never be chosen for any jury.

      This is just Cohen doing his usual despicable thing. Nothing to see here.

  3. ClaimsAdjuster

    Uber checked the driver’s insurance policy, knew that it was invalid because it was non-commercial but allowed him to become one of their “partners.” This is gross negligence. Uber knew an accident like this would happen but flooding the streets with uninsured cars is their business plan. They are liable.

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