Ride service Uber has tentatively settled a lawsuit over the death of a 6-year-old girl who was struck and killed by an Uber X driver on New Year's Eve 2013. The agreement provides an undisclosed amount of money to the girl’s family and allows the company to avoid a trial about its responsibility for drivers who serve its customers.
Sophia Liu died after she, her younger brother and their mother were struck by an SUV as they crossed Polk Street in San Francisco. At the time of the crash, the driver, Syed Muzzafar, was logged into Uber's smartphone app and able to receive pickup requests. Uber initially said that Muzzafar was not "providing services on the Uber system at the time of the accident” because he did not have a passenger with him.
The family’s lawyers argued that Uber was responsible for Muzzafar’s conduct, and that the phone-based interface potentially contributed to the fatality by distracting the driver. Uber is involved in several legal proceedings over the question of whether its drivers are independent contractors or employees; the state of California recently ruled that an Uber driver was in fact an employee of the company, although this ruling only applied to a single driver.
Uber said in a statement, "The Lius suffered a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to them. While we cannot ease their pain, we do hope that this settlement helps the family move forward."
Despite its worldwide success, Uber has faced questions over the safety and licensing of its drivers. Last year, a woman in India was allegedly raped by her Uber driver. After that incident, the company said it would develop biometrics and voice verification for enhanced driver screening.