Ride-share companies or transportation network companies, also known by their car service apps names, such as Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Drive, LeCab, Snapcar, and Flywheel, many of which got their start in San Francisco, are beginning to see their liability free loopholes begin to close. The recent boom in ride-share companies has come with significant backlash, much from the already highly regulated and liability insured limo and taxi drivers and their representative organizations. For years now professional drivers have been bring to light the dangers of ride shares. Much of the unfair competition claims stem from the fact that ride-share companies are seen as unregulated, underinsured, limited liability companies, that are not required to maintain their vehicles as vigilantly, or limit the hours of operation for their contracted drivers thus lessening driver fatigue, nor must they run background or criminal checks on their drivers, or require the ride-share companies to have liability insurance as costly or as inclusive as other forms of transportation require by both state and federal law. Contrary to distracted driving laws, ride-share companies also tend to utilize a GPS like interfacing system to communicate with their drivers, potentially leading to more distracted drivers on the cities roadways. Furthering frustrations, when accidents do happen these ride-share companies are quick to distance themselves from the driver and the subsequent harm caused.
While a fairly new business model, ride-shares are the online equivalent of the middleman. A “user” also known as a passenger, downloads an app, signs up for the service, linking their account to a credit card, and simply logs in to hail a cab, all in the convenience of their own home, business, or social gathering. The user/passenger would then have a picture of their driver, license plate number, and expected arrival time texted back to them on their mobile device. Uber, which is available in Philadelphia works like this; within a short amount of time the user will be greeted by either a base car, picture a black Lincoln model car, with a price tag of $7 plus total travel time, or an SUV option with a $14 base cost, plus the cost of the total travel time. Included in the cost is a tip for the driver. There is nowhere to indicate that the driver actually gets the tip and it is not just incorporated into the drivers total daily takeaway, therefore subject to be split with whatever agreed upon percentage the middleman acquires.
As a Philadelphia personal injury attorney I was particularly interested in a recent wrongful-death suit brought against the ride-share company Uber, and an Uber driver charged with vehicular manslaughter. The driver, 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar of Union City, was a driver contracted to work with Uber this past New Year’s Eve, one of the companies biggest surge pricing nights. The suit claims that Muzzafar was signed in to Uber and while not currently carrying an Uber passenger, the driver was interfacing with the Uber equipment on one of their busiest nights. While all rides vary in cost per the distance traveled in a taxi, for ride-shares companies, the cost is also contingent upon the particular time, place, or day that you happen to use your ride-share. Nearly all ride-shares use a form of price surging as a means to add incentive to drivers “to get out on the road during peak hours when riders need them the most.”
In this instance the driver Muzzafar, was working during such a peak time. He had already picked up an Uber passenger, dropped off a passenger, and was awaiting anotehr Uber call when he turned into the intersection. Muzzafar struck a group of pedestrians as they crossed the street, in a crosswalk near the Civic Center, in San Francisco. 6-year-old Sophia Liu, was fatally injured and died at the scene. Her 5-year-old brother was seriously injured and was transported to local area hospital for treatment. Their mother was also struck and injured as she walked with her children in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The suit alleges that Uber’s business practices run afoul of California’s distracted driving laws by requiring any Uber driver to interface with a device similar to a cellphone in order to secure and confirm a new passenger or user request. The suit requests unspecified damages as they claim negligent hiring and supervision by Uber, negligence with a motor vehicle, wrongful death, and infliction of emotional distress. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court and what the rippling effects this lawsuit may have on the highly unregulated ride-share community.
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