Wrongful Death Suit Cites Distracted Driving as Contributing Factor

By Greg Kohn

Sad, but important news regarding distracted driving laws and a wrongful death lawsuit filed Monday after a young girl was struck and killed by a driver for ride service company Uber in California on New Year’s Eve.

The family of 6-year-old Sofia Liu filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Uber, a taxi-alternative company that allows people to summon and pay for rides with their smartphones in 60 cities, including New Jersey. Uber driver Syed Muzzafar was allegedly logged into the company’s smartphone app, waiting to receive and accept a ride request, when his Honda SUV collided with the young girl, her younger brother, and her mother while they were on a crosswalk. Muzzafar is also listed as a defendant in the suit, which did not specify a number of damages sought.

Is Uber responsible for the actions of its drivers?

Although Uber maintains that Muzzafar was not doing a trip on the Uber system at the time of the fatal accident, the Lius argue that Uber is responsible for the driver’s actions. Following his arrest on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, Muzzafar is currently out of jail on bail and has not been charged with a crime as of yet, police officials said. Uber, which has distanced itself from Muzzafar since the accident, said it deactivated Muzzafar as a driver after the crash.

Attorney Christopher Dolan, who is representing the Lius, said the phone-based interface Uber drivers use to locate and pick up riders and find fares causes distracted driving, which contributed to the death of Sofia. According to the lawsuit, the app violates state law, as Uber drivers “must respond quickly to a user request for service by physically interfacing with the app, thereby leading to distraction.” According to Dolan, Uber had denied insurance protection that would have covered the family and the driver.

New Jersey Distracted Driving Laws

Distracted driving laws vary by state but, had this happened in New Jersey, there would most likely be similar legal consequences, as New Jersey distracted driving law also bans drivers from using handheld phones. In addition, both states ban bus drivers and beginner drivers from all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free), and enforce a ban on texting for all drivers.

This wrongful death suit could impact how technology companies in the ride-services arena, like Uber, should be standardized, and if such companies should be held accountable for their drivers’ actions – and to what degree.

If you live in New Jersey or the surrounding area and think you may have a personal injury case, contact us with your questions and concerns. We’ll help you navigate through the next steps, call Nagel Rice, LLP at their Roseland, NJ office- 973-618-0400; Red Bank, NJ office- 732-933-0900, or New York office- 212-551-1465.

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.