Uber Claims It's Not to Blame for Death of 6-Year-Old Pedestrian on New Year's Eve (Update)

Update, 11:35 a.m.: Uber confirmed that Muzzafar was, indeed a contractor with the company. It's since deactivated his account. An Uber spokesman stressed, again, that Muzzafar was not "providing services through the Uber system" at the time he struck and killed a 6 year-old girl at Polk and Ellis Streets.

Update, 9:46 a.m.: Police release name and photo of the self-identified Uber driver (See bottom).

uberaccident.png
CBS San Francisco
Girl killed, family injured in accident New Year's Eve.
It's been a rough year for Uber thus far.

Just four hours before the car-hire startup planned to ring in 2014 -- ideally with an onslaught of high-priced trips through San Francisco's bustling downtown corridor -- one of its contracted drivers allegedly hit a family in a Tenderloin crosswalk, killing a 6-year-old girl and critically injuring her mother and brother.

"There are no words to express the deep sadness and grief felt for young San Francisco resident, Sophia Liu," Supervisor Jane Kim wrote in a statement issued shortly after the young girl's death.

muzzafar.png
SFPD Booking Photo
Suspect Syed Muzzafar, who allegedly hit a family in the crosswalk at Polk and Ellis Streets on New Year's Eve.
Kim added that the accident would have been "100 percent avoidable" had the driver followed basic traffic laws. She considered the incident a harbinger for app-based car-hire startups, indicating that it raises questions about driver training and compliance.

Meanwhile, Uber rushed to do damage control. A day after the accident, spokesman Andrew Noyes posted a blog on the company site, denying culpability.

"We work with transportation providers across the Bay Area, but we can confirm that this tragedy did not involve a vehicle or provider doing a trip on the Uber system," Noyes wrote. Although the driver identified himself as an Uber contractor, according to Supervisor Kim, the company repeatedly tried to exonerate itself.

However, it also relied on equivocal language. While Noyes contends that the accident didn't occur during "an Uber trip," he avoided specifying whether the driver contracted with Uber. Nor did he clarify whether the driver had taken other "Uber trips" that night.

At the end of the blog, Noyes exhorted police to publicly identify the driver in question. "If the driver is, indeed, a partner of Uber, he or she will immediately be deactivated from using Uber technology," the spokesman assured.

Thus, Noyes launched a semantic counter-attack, while offering a missive that implies Uber doesn't know who's driving for it. Asked for further clarification, he copied-and-pasted the same blog statement in an e-mail.

A March accident involving an Uber driver led to contentious lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court, in which the company also claimed no liability. In that case, Uber didn't deny having contracted with the driver; it simply argued that because the driver was a hired gun, rather than employee, the company shouldn't be held responsible.

That suit is still ongoing. If the company fails to disassociate itself from the New Year's Eve fatality, then its legal troubles are only beginning.

Update: San Francisco Police spokesman Gordon Shyy just released the name and booking photo of the man who told police he was an Uber driver. The suspect, 57 year-old Union City resident Syed Muzzafar, is charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. We are waiting to hear back from Uber as to whether or not Muzzafar contracts with the company.




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46 comments
LaurettaD
LaurettaD

I’ve been in the auto insurance industry for over 25 years. Most people don’t bother to read their insurance policy. My experience has been in the states of DE, MD, NC, PA, VA, WV, and the District of Columbia. A private passenger family auto insurance policy will likely disclaim liability and collision coverage for accidents which occur when the vehicle is being used to carry persons for a fee or compensation. Some states allow an insurer to fully disclaim liability coverage. Others states require that the insurance company only have to provide the minimum limits required by the state’s financial responsibility laws. Uber, Lyft and Sidecar drivers should consider themselves on notice. A bad accident could result in financial devastation, even if the end result is that there is no legal liability on the part of the driver. If your policy excludes collision coverage and you have a lien on the vehicle, you will be personally responsible for the repairs, if you’re at fault for an accident. It’s even worse if your vehicle is a total loss.

The California Public Utilities Commission refers to companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar as Transportation Network Companies or TNC. There is much debate on whether the drivers are agents or employees of the company, whether the driver is a hack, whether the companies should be controlled the taxicab commission or public utilities commission. The answers will ultimately be hashed out through the judicial system. Uber’s position seems to be that the drivers are all independent contractors and not employees or agents of Uber. They [Uber] simply facilitate getting the driver and passenger(s) together. It agrees, however, that the driver is working for Uber when the driver is actually in the act of transporting a passenger.

It’s a terrible thing when an injury results from an auto accident, even more so when there is a fatality. According to KQED News in the California Bay Area, 20 pedestrians were killed in San Francisco in 2013. Two accidents, including this one, occurred on the last day of the year. I believe this accident garnered so much attention because of the driver’s relation with Uber.  Hopefully, drivers for these “TNC’s” will follow this case and protect their personal and financial interests, rather than relying on, or hoping that the company will do so.

sftaxi8041
sftaxi8041

Why is it that Uber drivers pay no daily gate like a cabbie, pay no city license fee of over 100 or 1800. per year to the city for other fees plus the state of ca over 300 in state taxs but continue to drive the streets of san francisco and suck money oout of the community all for corperate greed   steve big dog city taxi

Mike_M_
Mike_M_

 If an Uber driver who lives MILES away on NYE in SAN FRANCISCO at about the time to pick up your best fares, where does it constitute that he is "off-duty" while he is driving to his next destination?  


A cab driver must then be "off-duty" while he has no passengers.  He should be held responsible for all his accidents in between all fares.  If you get hit by an empty cab, then we all should not look to the cab company for insurance, but the cab driver, and since he doesn't have appropriate insurance to drive a commercial vehicle, like these bozos, then GOOD LUCK on your medical bills.  No one else is liable, and the driver is a broke man.  Read the fine print before you jump on your "Lyft" bandwagon.

mycomics
mycomics

If Uber HIRED drivers they could have better QC over drivers AND SOP in place for these types of accidents (like traditional cab firms do).  Uber does have some responsibility here. The girls parents should sue, no doubt they would win and/or receive a hefty settlement. Won't bring the girl back, but it will stop Uber (and others) from freelancing something as important and potentially dangerous as cab service to non professional drivers. Maybe Uber should only hire those with cdl licences. Might be a "good' idea.

ggconti
ggconti

Everyone keep comment about UBER and seens like to forgotten about the litte girl.

Let's face all these apps companies related with transportation needs to be regulatte.

Everyone has family and I hope this never happen again.

Joseph Bando
Joseph Bando

Everyone driving passengers for money should be required to get a chauffeurs license. This ride sharing crap is a loophole that allows a middleman like uber or lyft to essentially make money doing NOTHING! What kind of overhead do these people have? Drivers have no qualifications and use their own cars. I hope this trend ends so cabs can start competing in a fair market. That's the only way you'll are cleaner cabs.

Steven Ray Davies
Steven Ray Davies

Poor Judges at San Francisco Superior court is going to have to deal with all this bullshit and court valuable time.

Sierrajeff
Sierrajeff

Pretty crass to use a girl's death to jump on the anti-Uber bandwagon.  Even if he were on duty, that doesn't indict the entire Uber fleet - just as the (frequent) breaches of traffic laws by cabbies apparently doesn't cause you to question cab companies' ethics.

Adam Detrick Rogers
Adam Detrick Rogers

You have a driver that relies on their cell phone to get business... DRIVING WITH YOUR PHONE AS YOUR BUSINESS! UBER should have cameras in their cars, like cabs, so if situations like this one comes up ( the death of a little 6 yr old girl) it can be fully investigated to see if that driver was on his phone.

Obo Agboghidi
Obo Agboghidi

Cab drivers hit people all the time and no one bats an eye

Drea Lester
Drea Lester

Rideshare drivers are covered under the company's liability policy when performing a ride for that particular company. If this driver was indeed "off-duty" at the time the accident occurred he is 100% liable for any damages caused. I have so much sympathy for the family and it's horrific loss, but ultimately it was the driver of the vehicle that hit the girl that is at fault not Über. We've become such a litigious society that we forget where the real responsibility lies.

Phillip Haack
Phillip Haack

Look at statistics before you jump to conclusions. Uber should be compiling information on number of accidents/fatalities from cab drivers,ride sharing drivers, and civilian drivers. We might find that cab drivers have more accident/per driver. Let's not fall victim to local availability bias!

Roberto Corso Campos
Roberto Corso Campos

Lauren Larsson, I work for Uber. It is impossible for a UberX driver to get commercial insurance. True fact. Insurance companies don't insure regular drivers for commercial purposes. I tried! You just gave me a link to the general Uber site, give me the link on their website stating that they cover passengers, pedestrians, etc. It is not just because they mention professional drivers (they work with limos and taxis as well) that uberX drivers are professionals fully insured.

塞繆塞繆
塞繆塞繆

So they done this before and not standing up for what they did. I hope they go under!!!!

Lauren Larsson
Lauren Larsson

Julie, do those regulations (Uber IS reguated, btw) keep accidents from happening?

rssllkurson
rssllkurson

I stick with the regular cabs in the city. I have not liked Uber's attitude from day one of their operation.

Roberto Corso Campos
Roberto Corso Campos

Christopher Schroeder, FedEX drivers are professionals with commercial insurance, uber drivers aren't professional and they don't commercial insurance. BIG difference!!!

Julie Goodenough
Julie Goodenough

I've been wondering when we'd start to see this happen. There's a reason taxis and hotels are regulated. What happens with these ride sharing companies when there's an accident? What happens if there's a fire in a Airbnb home? Who's liable for injuries, death, etc?

Kiran Umapathy
Kiran Umapathy

I agree that the responsible thing to do is revoke the driver's ability to use Uber, but something like this isn't the company's liability if it was an off-duty ride. Instead of being such a litigious, blaming society we could seek better traffic laws and pedestrian safety like Christopher suggested. I still feel awful for the family though.

塞繆塞繆
塞繆塞繆

Wow not using UBER that can't stand up and admit they killed a girl! For crying out loud she was at a crosswalk!!!

Lori Lav
Lori Lav

You all seem retarded. How is a company responsible for this? The driver is. NYC cabs can hit ppl but ppl don't blame the concept of cabs themselves. Maybe you should blame the DMV too. Ridiculous. Uber or not this person is on the road driving. Anyone behind the wheel is capable of hitting someone if they can't drive. When uber issues drivers licenses then complain. On another note, if you don't live on a major street like market and do not want to take public transportation and can afford to take a car anytime you want then how else would one do that. Uber saved my life. I moved from NYC and I can't hail a cab.. But thanks to uber I can call one :)

Christopher Schroeder
Christopher Schroeder

What would FedEx's argument be? They use the same model. 95% of their drivers are contracted. And if a driver hit someone while not on duty, would we question whether FedEx should be responsible for the accident? No. This is a tragic story but if the driver wasn't working it's hardly appropriate to turn this not a Uber story when you wouldn't do the same for any other off-duty contracted workers. As a resident of the TL my primary concern is that this is the THIRD pedestrian death this year from cars turning from a one-way to a one-way. Why aren't we addressing this problem. No turns on red in a densely populated pedestrian area would be the best start.

Mark Costigan
Mark Costigan

I want them to succeed, but this needs to serve as a wake up call for them to enforce driver vetting. Their quality has been grossly compromised lately, and now a little girl is dead.

Robert la Bohème
Robert la Bohème

They're never to blame for anything according to them. Maybe we should leave the driving to the professionals.

Kat Ryan
Kat Ryan

Not a fan of uber. At all. Very flawed business model and their response to this accident is repulsive.

Carlyn Santos
Carlyn Santos

Since when automobiles and driver not responsible for pedestrian deaths, ugh!

ggconti
ggconti

@Sierrajeff

This could be avoid if the PUC or SF City regulate these app companies.

Or activating a SURCHARGE PRICE. The drivers going crazy and driving like maniacs trying to make the most run they can on a surcharge price.

ggconti
ggconti

Agree

The City should inforce them to install cameras on their cars.

mycomics
mycomics

Yeah, but those drivers are pro drivers. That is what Uber forgot to factor in when they were re-factoring their code. If they HIRED pro drivers (cdl anyone or REAL cabbies, etc...) this would not have happened. 


Disrupting is all well and good as long as you know what your industry is about. Are your solving "real" problems, or just your VC's "problem." 


Those who run Uber have probably never driven a cab, so something like this incident is merely a theoretical for them. I guess its all too real for them now.

Mike_M_
Mike_M_

If an Uber driver who lives MILES away on NYE in SAN FRANCISCO at about the time to pick up your best fares, where does it constitute that he is "off-duty" while he is driving to his next destination?  


A cab driver must then be "off-duty" while he has no passengers.  He should be held responsible for all his accidents in between all fares.  If you get hit by an empty cab, then we all should not look to the cab company for insurance, but the cab driver, and since he doesn't have appropriate insurance to drive a commercial vehicle, like these bozos, then GOOD LUCK on your medical bills.  No one else is liable, and the driver is a broke man.  Read the fine print before you jump on your "Lyft" bandwagon.

mycomics
mycomics

Well,, we'll see what the girl's parent's lawyers have to say about that, lol.

steve1298
steve1298

Roberto during the PUC rule making hearing concearning  Uber and the rest or the ride-sharing companies.  The rule was they had to come up with 1 million dollar limit insurance policy to cover their drivers and  passengers.  Now what the PUC failed to see, or at least I think they did,  Is that when they say a taxi or limo outfit has to provide a million dollar policy they kind of assume that means ALL THE TIME.  Before the job, during the job, after the job always covered.  This is so the public is protected.


Uber has a different idea:  Only if a customer is in the car will they consider coverage and that is after the drivers insurance and resources are exhausted.

Sierrajeff
Sierrajeff

@rssllkurson Which part of their attitude - that they pick you up anywhere within minutes?  (I had an Uber at my place within 10 minutes of a hail, for a 5:00 a.m. pickup in the Mission - try that with a cab.)  The clean cars?  The pleasant drivers?  The complete lack of hassle about using credit cards?  The last time I used a cab in S.F. was when I spent over 20 minutes trying to hail one in SoMa, and then on getting to my destination swiped my credit card (and it said "accepted"), and then the driver claimed there was a problem and wanted to take a paper impression of my card.  All in a dark, creepy interior that'd seen better years.  So go ahead, avoid Uber's "attitude", it's your ride.

mrericsir
mrericsir topcommenter

The responsible thing to do wouldn't be to ban him from driving for Uber, it would be to shred his license and prevent him from driving, period.

stephen.gatto66
stephen.gatto66

If you want to make a point that implies you have any notable insight, you should probably refrain from referring to the other commenters as "retarded".  It pretty much leaves you as the one seemingly "retarded". 

AC94114
AC94114

Ha!  If you mean the cab driver or MUNI drivers being "professional" - then you must not have ever ridden in a cab or on a bus in the city.  They are all horrible drivers.  then again, all Bay Area drivers seem to have gotten their driver's licenses from a Cracker Jacks box...

ggconti
ggconti

@AC94114

Agree

Just to let everyone knows most the Uber drivers use to be a cab or limo driver. Let's face the reality someone needs to regulate these guys.

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