Uber files defense in New Year’s Eve death of six-year-old girl

The wrongful death lawsuit against Uber for the New Year’s Eve death of six-year-old Sofia Liu moved forward, as Uber filed its defense May 1. 

Uber’s defense filing claims the driver that struck Liu, Syed Muzzafar, was not an Uber employee and he had no reason to interact with the Uber app at the time of Liu’s death. 

The suit also claims that Muzzafar signed an agreement with Uber acknowledging those facts.

“Under that Transportation Services Agreement,” the lawsuit states, “[Muzzafar] acknowledged that he was not an employee, agent, joint venturer or partner of Rasier (Uber’s subsidiary) for any purpose; rather, he was an independent contractor.” 

Liu was killed after Muzzafar collided with her and her family in the Tenderloin on New Year’s Eve. Liu’s mother, Huan Kuang, and Liu’s brother, Anthony, were both injured but survived. The family, represented by attorney Christopher Dolan, filed the suit at the end of January seeking unknown damages. 

Back in March we asked Dolan if Uber offered condolences to the Liu and Kuang family. 

“Absolutely not. Basically their message is ‘it’s too bad,’ but its not their problem,” Dolan told us. “They said, ‘jeez our hearts go out to them but we’re not responsible.’”

Many state officials have called out loopholes in Uber’s insurance coverage, including, recently, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who issued a public letter to the CPUC calling for stricter insurance regulations. One in particular is the “app on” “app off,” loophole. Uber contends when the Uber app is off that personal insurance should kick in and cover a driver (a claim the personal insurance industry has flatly refused). The lawsuit uses a similar defense, claiming Muzzafar alone was liable for the collision that night.

“At the time of the accident, Mr. Muzaffar was not providing transportation services through the Uber App,” the lawsuit states. “He was not transporting a rider who requested transportation services through the Uber App. He was not en route to pick up a rider who requested transportation services though the Uber App. He was not receiving a request for transportation services through the Uber App.”

Of course, Muzzafar did have the Uber app on waiting for a fare request, driving around as he waited for a fare request on the app. 

The lawsuit mentions this as well, saying he was looking at a “GPS-generated map with his location,” and had “no reason” to interact with his phone. 

All told Uber makes 22 specific defense claims in the response, most fairly standard in these cases.

But in the truest sense of the new digital “sharing” economy defense number nine claims an app, by definition, is not liable for such claims.

“Plaintiffs’ products liability claim is barred,” the lawsuit states, “because the Companies primarily provide services, not products.”

Two proposed state bills, AB 2293 and AB 2068, would each require commercial insurance for Transportation Network Companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. 

Uber's response to wrongful death suit from new year's even death of sofia liu by FitztheReporter