Uber drivers in vehicular manslaughter & hammer attack

Trouble mounts for ride-sharing app service, Uber, as drivers' behaviour raises red flags. Automologist, MAC, reports on the developing...

Trouble mounts for ride-sharing app service, Uber, as drivers' behaviour raises red flags. Automologist, MAC, reports on the developing controversy.

Uber seems to be all over the headlines at the moment as the techno-ride-sharing start-up is the target for legal action across the globe. Now the stakes seem to be getting higher after a driver for the popular ride-hailing service is charged with vehicular manslaughter in California - a charge similar to driving without due care and attention in the rest of the world - in connection with the death of a six-year-old girl who was crossing a San Francisco street about a year ago.

The driver, Syed Muzzafar, was charged by the San Francisco DA’s office with allegedly striking and killing Sofia Liu as she walked with her family across a road; he will be arraigned this week. Uber claims that Muzzafar was off-duty at the time and was immediately banned by the company after the incident, but this did not stop Liu’s family from filing wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits against both Muzzafar and Uber shortly after the accident.

"The last thing I saw before the Uber driver killed my little girl, and forever changed my life, was him looking down at his phone," Huan Kuang, the girl's mother, is quoted as saying in a statement issued by her attorney on Tuesday. "The driver is a man who was working to feed his family and he did wrong, but Uber is the one who makes the drivers look at their phones as part of the way they do business. Uber is just as responsible as Muzzafar, but they say they are not." Although Muzzafar has been charged with the manslaughter, the Liu family firmly believes that Uber has not been held accountable for the tragedy as they believe that it should be.

A memorial where Sofia Liu was killed.
Uber has released a short statement that reads: "The driver in question was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident." The Liu family attorney, Chris Dolan, countered by stating that whether there was a rider or not at that moment, it makes no difference. "The design and use of these mobile applications requires drivers to violate the law as they have just seconds to respond to instant messages from Uber or they will lose the fare and receive negative ratings and possible termination of their driver status," Dolan said in Tuesday's statement.

In a separate and unrelated incident, Roberto Chicas, a 35-year-old San Francisco bartender, was brutally beaten with a hammer by an Uber driver over a dispute on the route home and landed up in hospital where they fear he may lose his eye. The driver, Patrick Karajah has been arrested and charged with two counts of assault and battery, and is currently free on a bail of US$125,000. 

In a statement, Chicas’ attorney, Harry Stern, said, “The real issue now is whether he’s going to permanently lose his sight in his eye. Right now there’s so much blood in his eye they don’t know whether that’s going to resolve. His skull is fractured. He’s going to need reconstructive surgery on his face.”

There is no doubt that the trail of liability leads back to Uber’s door and Chicas is said to be planning to sue the ride-sharing company. Uber of course completely disagrees and points to its terms of service, making it clear that it is not liable under any circumstances for bad things that might happen when you use the service. In fact, if you take the time to read Uber’s terms of service, you will discover the following statement:

“YOU EXPRESSLY WAIVE AND RELEASE THE COMPANY FROM ANY AND ALL ANY LIABILITY, CLAIMS OR DAMAGES ARISING FROM OR IN ANY WAY RELATED TO THE THIRD PARTY TRANSPORTATION PROVIDER.”

Or should that read “ride at your own risk of hammer attacks”? Uber, though, seems to think that a semantic argument is their best defence. Similar to their argument that they are a ride-sharing service and not a taxi service, they are trying to circumvent local and national regulations that are attached to the provision of a TAXI service. Let’s face it - for more than a hundred years, the definition of a taxi has been when someone effects a private hire of a chauffeured vehicle for personal transportation.

In this case, Uber seems to think that it can use, as their first line of defense, that it is a technology company and NOT a transportation company, or an online market place and not a taxi service. Here, though, is a key distinction; in the United States of Americaland, online market places are protected from offline connections they create because of Section 230 of the Communications Act

This is the section that is invoked when Craig’s List users kill other Craig’s List users, or when people sell forgeries on eBay. However, many experts think that Uber may be on thin ice with this as Uber actually controls the choice of driver and the price of the ride, and thus may not be a free enough market place to qualify.

Is the ride finally over for Uber now? I somehow doubt it.

Read also: Is it all over for Uber?!

images: http://ww2.kqed.or, forbes.com

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