Uber has settled a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the tragic death of a six-year-old girl on New Year’s Eve, 2013.
On December 31st at around 8pm, Sofia Liu, her younger brother Anthony, and mother Huan Kuang were struck as they walked a crosswalk in San Francisco. Sofia died as a resulted of the accident. The driver was logged in to the Uber app, according to the lawsuit.
According to Reuters, Uber and the girl's family have reached a settlement – the terms of which are being kept under wraps at the family's request.
When the lawsuit was filed, Uber asserted that the driver was not actually providing services for Uber at the time of the accident.
"Our hearts go out to the family and victims of the tragic accident that occurred in downtown San Francisco on New Year’s Eve. We extend our deepest condolences. We work with transportation providers across the Bay Area. The driver in question was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident. The driver was a partner of Uber and his account was immediately deactivated," said Uber at the time.
The family’s argument against Uber was two-pronged – first, it challenged the notion of what it means to really be “on the clock” while employed at Uber and second it took issue with Uber’s app, how it relates to the company’s entire business premise, and how it could run afoul of California law.
From the New York Times, in 2014:
Uber asserts that Uber drivers without fares are not Uber cars. The suit, filed by Chris Dolan, a San Francisco lawyer, directly challenges this effort by the company to detach itself from its own users. It says Uber needs the vehicles to be logged into the Uber app — that’s the only way potential riders know there is a car in the vicinity. So even when there is no fare in the car, the drivers are in essence on the clock, working for Uber. When drivers accept a call, furthermore, they need to interface with the app. The suit goes on to note that under California law, it is illegal to use a “wireless telephone” while driving unless it is specifically configured to be hands-free — which the app is not. In essence, the suit argues that Uber was negligent in the “development, implementation and use of the app” so as to cause the driver to be distracted and inattentive.
It looks like Uber decided to settle rather than risk this argument in court.
Of course, this lawsuit sounds very similar in tone to others currently in motion. Are Uber drivers employees? Or are they simply contractors? When is an Uber driver actually working for Uber?
Uber’s argument has always been that it’s a software company. Uber connects people wanting a ride to those offering a ride. It’s a logistics company. Uber simply connects third-party contractors with customers.
In a recent decision the California Labor Commission ruled that one Uber drivers was actually an employee.