The family of a 6-year-old girl killed while in a San Francisco pedestrian crossing on New Year's Eve intends to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Internet ride-sharing service company Uber.
The lawsuit to be filed in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of Sofia Liu claims that Uber and its driver at the time, Syed Muzaffar, are responsible for the girl's death, the girl's family attorney, Christopher Dolan, said Monday.
Dolan believes it is the first wrongful-death lawsuit of its kind against the company.
The girl was crossing the street along with her mother and younger brother in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighbourhood last month when they were struck by a Honda driven by Muzaffar, authorities said.
Police arrested Muzaffar, 57, of Union City, who they say was logged onto the Uber application at the time of the accident. He faces charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.
Muzaffar is currently out on bail. The incident remains under investigation.
Uber, which matches riders to private cars via a smartphone app, declined comment regarding the lawsuit. The company has said in a previous statement regarding the girl's death that Muzaffar "was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident".
The company deactivated Muzaffar's account after the accident. Muzaffar's attorney, Graham Archer, disagreed, saying his client had dropped off at least one other fare he received through Uber earlier in the evening and was logged in and available to pick up other riders for the company.
"I'm concerned that Uber, from their statements, is hanging my client out to dry," Archer said. "What also concerns my client is that the family of Liu may also be hung out to dry if funds from insurance and whatever funds Uber could contribute are denied in proceedings."
Dolan said Monday that while Uber shares in the profits of its drivers, it must also share in the responsibility for the harms they cause. The lawsuit alleges that because drivers must consistently interact with the Uber app to locate and pick up riders, the app violates a California law seeking to reduce distracted driving.
"Whether or not a fee-paying passenger is in the car, if the driver is on the app and GPS, they are providing a benefit to Uber and their use of the app creates an unlawful risk of distraction that leads to the very type of injury and death we see here," Dolan said.
"The Liu's wish is to make sure others don't suffer the same tragedy that has befallen them," Dolan continued. "They want increased safety and they demand justice for Sofia."
In August, several drivers filed a class-action lawsuit against Uber, claiming the company was cheating them out of their tips. Uber has denied the claim.
In September, the California Public Utilities Commission approved measures to ensure that drivers for web-based ride-hailing companies undergo training and criminal background checks and have commercial liability insurance. The companies will also have to implement a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol and ensure vehicles undergo a thorough inspection.
But the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association maintained that even after the state PUC's ruling, these "transportation network companies" are not subject to the same level of scrutiny or oversight as taxi services, which are locally regulated.