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Phil Matier: Wrongful Death Suit Could Change How Uber Does Business

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — A wrongful-death lawsuit involving Uber and one of its drivers who struck a 6-year-old girl, could be instrumental in changing the way ridesharing companies are regulated.

The lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court seeks damages from both Uber and 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar, the driver who struck and killed Sofia Liu as she walked with her mother and brother at Polk and Ellis streets around 8 p.m. on Dec. 31.

Attorney Christopher Dolan, who is representing the Liu family, said the case could have widespread ramifications on Uber and other ridesharing startups that depend on a smartphone app to match riders to private cars.

Dolan said Monday that this is the first time Uber is going to be challenged on its platform and denial of responsibility as being the employer of Muzzafar.

Basically it’s a taxi cab service without a dispatch center. Uber has said the driver was in between fares and did not have a passenger with him at the time of the accident.

However, he did have the app on his smartphone that alerts him when someone needs a ride and then he’s supposed to arrive very quickly; let’s not forget this happened on New Year’s Eve. So now we have someone behind the wheel that is supposed to be operating their smartphone to get their next fare, simultaneously.

So we’re really looking at a much bigger issue in how these companies will be regulated in the future. Taxis in San Francisco are regulated by the city, but these transportation startups in the state are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Companies like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar have been making a lot of money in a short amount of time and have been enjoying the riches, but not necessarily adhering to the responsibilities like some of their transportation competitors.

Cabs have to be insured at all times. Uber has insurance, but said they only cover drivers when they have a fare. The lawsuit is a major chance to say that the old rules apply to new technology.

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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