Broken bodies, broken lives

Lax rideshare regulations put drivers, passengers, and pedestrians at risk

A hydrant hit by a private taxi operating in partnership with Uber was sent flying, leaving this geyser pouring over Divisadero

Motorists driving for rideshare companies have struck and also killed pedestrians in San Francisco, even since state regulations were adopted to make these new transportation businesses safer and more accountable to the public.

Four months after the new rules were created, lawsuits from these incidents reveal that the new regulations contain gaping holes that continue to place passengers, pedestrians, and even drivers at risk.

One recent local story actually started in 2004 in Florida's Monroe County. A vehicle sped down the Overseas highway at over 100mph. Ever seen the movie The Fast and the Furious? It was like that.

In the Florida heat, the car blazed by palm trees and an ocean view, hell bent for Miami. It accelerated as it took a curve, swerving around two vehicles going half its speed. Brazenly passing a traffic control device, the car cut off one more vehicle, then another, and another. Still barreling over 100mph, the driver swerved across the double yellow lines, forcing an oncoming vehicle to veer off the highway.

A traffic snarl put an end to the thrill ride. According to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office incident report, which the Guardian obtained through a records request, driver Syed Muzzafar was accompanied by his wife and three children during his death-defying drive. He told the police officer, "This was just a dumb thing to do. I know I'm wrong."

Muzzafar was booked for reckless driving. Nine years later, he would be booked again in San Francisco for hitting a family as they crossed the street in the Tenderloin.

On New Year's Eve 2013, picking up fares for the tech company Uber, Muzzafar's car struck young Sofia Liu, her mother, Huan Kuang, and brother, Anthony Liu. Six-year-old Sofia did not survive. Her family filed a wrongful death suit against Uber on Jan. 27, and will be represented by attorney Christopher Dolan.

Uber is part of an emerging cast of companies commonly known as rideshares, now legally called Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). The gist of how they operate is this: the company's mobile app connects a driver with a customer, much like a taxi dispatch. Only a few years old, the TNCs initially operated in a wild west, devoid of regulation. But the California Public Utilities Commission passed rules for TNCs in September with the aim of protecting pedestrians, passengers, and drivers in collisions.

Uber, formed in 2009, has drivers in over 50 cities worldwide and an estimated worth of just over $3 billion, according to leaked evaluations. But Uber may still be in need of a version 2.0.

The death of the young Sofia Liu, killed by a driver already arrested for reckless driving, shows the state still has a long way to go on the road to regulating rideshares.



The night Muzzafar struck the Liu family, he was ferrying customers using the Uber app — but the company disavowed responsibility for the incident.

"We thank law enforcement for the quick release of information," Uber wrote in a blog post the day after Sofia Liu died. "We can confirm that the driver in question was a partner of Uber and that we have deactivated his Uber account. The driver was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident."

But that's a half-truth: Muzzafar was picking up passengers for Uber all night, but because he'd just dropped off a customer, he allegedly ceased being an Uber driver. With no passengers in the vehicle, Uber did not consider him "on the Uber system."

If that sounds like a giant loophole, you'd be right — but it's a legal one, for now.


Sharing economy enterprises like this cannot be held responsible for what their independent contractors do, and more than SFBG would have been responsible if a hooker killed a punter who got her number of a SFBG hooker ad.

The remedy is already well established - a claim against the driver's insurance.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 28, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

Will you PLEASE do your homework? The majority of rideshare driver's insurance are PERSONAL policies which will NOT cover in the event the insured vehicle is operating in a commercial manner.
When an accident occurs, in which the rideshare driver is found to be at fault, the claim should be (under current law which you would HOPE a professional driver would follow for the safety of their passengers) denied by the driver's insurance company.
The "$1 million" policy held by the TNC would then be no better than the paper it is written on as it CAN NOT offer coverage until the driver's policy has reached it's coverage maximum.
But who needs factual details right?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 10:22 am

My point was limited to the observation that such insurance is with the driver. If a driver fails to carry the correct insurance then problems can happen. But I fail to see why that is Uber's concern.

Same thing when you rent a vehicle. It carries only a very basic insurance which you then have to top up either with your own insurance or buy buying additional protection.

All that said, Uber may carry some level of corporate insurance to cover the odd case like this. The plaintiffs in this case might hope so anyway.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 10:34 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 10:49 am

You're wrong on that. All taxi drivers in the city of San Francisco are also independant contractors. Yet they must belong to an taxi association (i.e Luxor Cab) for dispatch. The cabs are then covered under the Associations master policy for insurance. It doesn't matter if they cab is on duty, with or without passangers or off duty. If that vehicle is involved in an accident, then the policy will pay.

So with Uber and such, there is no insurance period. The drivers own policy will not pay because in every personal insurance policy there is an exclusion for livery operations (transporting passangers for a fee). Uber is not picking it up because they really don't have a policy. I've seen it and it's crap.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:05 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:16 am

they can't make any money as drivers for these companies with deceptive business models.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:41 am

But what we really need is tort reform.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 6:44 pm

Commercial insurance is prohibitively expensive for drivers of these new taxi companies. Those that are properly insured can't make the job worth their while. Those that don't carry the proper insurance are putting themselves, the customers and the general public at great financial risk.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 8:31 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 7:48 am

so why do you continue to comment? To confirm your ignorance? Personal insurance covers people using their cars for car pooling and other personal uses like giving a friend a ride.

Once someone uses their car for a commercial venture, like tech-based car services, personal car insurance no longer applies.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 9:02 am

then your insurance may deny you.

But I'm agreeing with you that insurance should be extended to cover this, and then it's a non issue

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 10:08 am

Most cabs in SF are paying over $10,000 per cab per year just for liability coverage. There is a reason for that and the TNC drivers are going to start finding out that driving round for hours on end in a city that has 500,000 cars registered in 49 square miles they are going to have accidents.
When their insurance company denies coverage does anybody think the plaintiff goes away? No they don't and court judgements are good for ten years and can be renewed.
Unsatisfied judgments go on credit reports also.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 9:11 pm

Every taxi operate by individuals have to pay 9000 to 12K for insurance. The vehicle need to be less than 5 Years old alternative fuel vehicles. The equipment and other expenses combined, a Yellow Cab might cost about $6600/month. The estimate is the car runs without any major repair cost or out of service date. It does not include the fees like A card, business license fee, credit card processing fee and the extortionists trying to suck out as much as they could. The drivers have to tip the doormen for airport ride or other out of town trips ranging from $5-20 depending on the trip.
If the other TNC s has to go through the one week long class, finger print and background check at Police Department and the procedure cost a driver about 700.
How much revenue the city generate from Taxis is the fact people don't know.

Posted by Dave on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 1:33 am

A TNC driver could easily be driving around with the egalitarian minimum coverage. Would you believe it is $5000 for property damage and $15,000 for injury or death?
Is it good public policy to have UBER making millions off the public and have this kind of coverage

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 9:22 pm

Will you please do YOUR homework? All of the rideshare companies have insurance that covers their drivers while they transport passengers. For example, Lyft covers the drivers up to a million dollars. If a Lyft driver is driving his kids to school, he is not covered by Lyft, but by his personal policy. In any event, he is covered IN BOTH CASES, on and off the job.

Posted by Anonymous Coward on Feb. 03, 2014 @ 5:14 am

Once an insurance company proves you've used your vehicle for commercial purposes, you're not even covered dropping your kids off at school because your insurance has been rendered null and void on the date you violated your insurance contract.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 03, 2014 @ 10:04 am

You just have to tell them what coverage you need.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 03, 2014 @ 10:19 am

Uber is facing a lawsuit about that as well. I've actually researched this issue for myself regarding a separate issue, and it appears to me that Uber is in clear violation of federal and state independent contractor regulations. What Uber calls their drivers, matters not a whit for the purposes of the law. Even if the driver signs something agreeing to call themselves an independent contractor, it doesn't matter. California actually has some good laws in this area. The only thing that matters is the real relationship between employer and employee. There are several objective criteria used, but control over the driver's job is paramount. So when Uber tells drivers they can't accept tips, that's a serious amount of control. Each violation carries up to $25,000 in punitive fines, for starters. And you know what the most delicious part is? If the Attorney General doesn't act on a complaint of violations of independent contractor regulations, the California Private Attorney General Act allows the plaintiff's lawyers to step in and collect the state fines on behalf of their clients.

And none of this will be decided in the court of public opinion. Nothing that Uber says, nothing Ed Lee and his techno-cronies say, nothing that the corporate media duly parrots, and certainly nothing said on the SFBG comment board will decide this. This will be decided in court based on the laws of the state. Uber is screwed -uber screwed.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

You nailed it. The taxi industry found out the hard way back around 1988 that what you put in the contract does not mean s*hit. Every cab in SF is covered by Workers Comp for this reason.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

that the drivers for the Bay Guardian get.

Back in the day if you had a van and showed up on a regular basis on the correct day they would give you papers to deliver.

Posted by guest on Jan. 28, 2014 @ 6:39 pm

>"When Muzzafar struck the Liu family, he was ferrying customers using the Uber app "

Is that true? Every other account has him alone in the car.

Who are the Uber customers that he was ferrying when he struck the Liu family? Have they been interviewed?

Posted by Guest2 on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:06 am

I'm not sure how anyone can claim to know what app, if any, he may or may not have been using at the time.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:17 am

he was alone. they are just being lazy with the description. The question is even if he is waiting for customers he is still logged into the app. Question is does that mean he is on duty. Uber says no. Lawsuit says yes.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:17 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:32 am

Thanks for confirming the 'laziness'; that's what I thought.

But also, the very first line:

"Motorists driving for rideshare companies have struck and killed pedestrians"

Plural...I'm only aware of this one incident, and even it is unclear. Are there other documented incidents or is it just another instance of 'being lazy'?

Posted by Guest2 on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:55 am

"When Muzzafar struck the Liu family, he was ferrying customers using the Uber app — but the company disavowed responsibility for the incident."

"Muzzafar was picking up passengers for Uber all night, but because he'd just dropped off a customer, he allegedly ceased being an Uber driver."

I'm all far hammering out the insurance requirements and other regulations for Uber drivers, but I'm also all for reporters to be accurate in what they are writing about and not spreading misinformation.

I also like the part where Joe rails on this guy being hired by Uber because he had a reckless driving in the past, yet a taxi company could have just as easily hired the guy, according to their own guidelines. Double standard, shmubble standard.

Posted by guestD on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 11:21 am

The article said that no driver with a reckless driving record can be hired.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

Drivers are supposed to be looking at the road and not at their smart phone for their next fare. How exactly do these smart phone driven ride sharing services fit with the state and national efforts to combat distracted driving?

These Smartphone Apps are extremely dangerous to use while driving on the busy streets of San Francisco. If you are looking at a smartphone and not at the road, bad things can happen (especially in SF) where you have lots of pedestrians and bike messengers and trucks.

City Cab drivers have been complaining about these ride sharing services since Day 1 so put the blame directly on the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) who is supposed to be regulating these ride sharing services.

Posted by sfparkripoff on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:40 am

So...basically Uber is no different than the Taxi companies in this regard.

When I was hit by a Yellow Cab driver on NYE a few years back, Yellow Cab's response was that "all drivers are independent contractors" and Yellow Cab was not responsible for their actions.

Despite identifying the specific car and describing the driver, Yellow Cab would not identify the driver, nor would it provide the GPS records for the vehicle that night.

At least with Uber, there is specific tracking down to the driver level. With the SF taxi companies, the drivers are completely anonymous and if my experience with Yellow Cab is any indication, the taxi companies will disclaim any and all liability when their drivers break the law, while simultaneously protecting the identity of said drivers.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

If you had a plate number or cab number you should have sued them. I've been in taxi management over 25 years and your story is BS in my books.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 9:16 pm

San Francisco Taxi drivers are in general the most dangerous group of road users without a doubt.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

As the conversation you have posted, the taxis are identified with the number on the vehicle visible from distance. Every taxi has it's own insurance coverage 24/7 for 1 Mil coverage. The taxi companies wont provide any information of anyone ( study the law ) as the insurance company will be handling the claims and for the safety of the driver.
Before you post any critism on anyone, you should learn about how things work and what kind of laws and regulations are there in the country you live in.
By the comments the ignorants posted here, I am amazed that there are a lot of dumb, entitled and hateful people exist.
Cab drivers are heavily regulated by the cities and county. They have to get one week of training, knowledge tests and give their finger prints(all 10 fingers) for background check before they get their permit to drive a cab.
If someone has a misdeminor or any felony record is declined to get the permit.
The taxi drivers are scanning entire street for their fare, the pirates are looking at their phones which is a violation of the state law at first.
The companies falsely advertised as they have excess insurance coverage. Read the user agreement of those Lyft, Uber and other services carefully and pay attention on the detail.
Learn about how the systems work before making any statement or comments and dont be an ignorant spoiled brat! The taxi generate more than 15 Mil/annum that contribute towards the public transit system you take, ride the bikes on the road and fund the paratransits.
Is there anything the pirates cabs contribute?

Posted by Dave on Mar. 04, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

My relatives always say that I am wasting my time here
at web, except I know I am getting experience every day by reading thes fastidious posts.

Posted by ganhe dinheiro on Jun. 15, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

Are you the guy jail walked on Ortis in the dark and hit by yellow cab? I was there blocked the oncoming traffic and stayed until the ambulance arrive. Lucky you were not sued for damage for the vehicle, loss of income and causing the public into distress.

Posted by Dave on Mar. 05, 2014 @ 12:01 am

Nonsense. Yellow is fully insured and cooperative in event of injuries
or property damage. 15 years with Yellow here.'
Perhaps one of those malicious Internet trolls
posted here. It's a hobby for the petty.

Posted by Guest. Lena on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 6:38 pm

Not sure if I buy this call for more stringent background checks. Yes, this guy is a terror on the roads, but I don't think your driving record should haunt you forever and ever. 7 years is usually enough. Yes, some will slip through the cracks. But most of the time, if someone has a clean record for 7 years, I don't see the need to keep punishing them for their whole life. A guy's gotta earn a living.

It's the flippant attitude toward insurance that really scares me about these obnoxious startups. Insurance is soooo 20th century! We're so cool and cutting edge that we don't need no insurance in the sharing economy.

With all the lawsuits against Uber, I think they're about to find out what the sharing economy really means.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 29, 2014 @ 7:47 pm

Or because Uber is app-based has it joined his previous enemies list headed by the Google bus?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

So an estimated 20 million dollar death and injury case that nobody wants to pay for is not news worthy?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

So how difficult is it to find commercial insurance if I want to drive for uber x or lyft? I'm guess the insurance will cost at least a average car payment a month but shouldn't that be tax deductable?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 02, 2014 @ 11:45 pm

First, get a Carrier permit from CPUC, then go through all the requirements to be able to transport passenger, get the insurance from two companies approved by the State and county ($800/month) and drive. Lets see how many drivers will be there.

Posted by Dave on Mar. 04, 2014 @ 11:51 pm

I'm an Uber(taxi) driver in Chicago. Uber is recruiting Chicago cab drivers to join their UberX service in their personal cars. I attended one of their info/signup sessions. UberX was unable to name even a SINGLE insurance company that would cover me and my personal car if joined UberX! When I asked if I should get commercial insurance, I was told that UberX didn't ALLOW that! In my opinion UberX is inducing and perpetuating insurance fraud by signing up unwitting drivers! Every SINGLE UberX, Lyft, SideCar driver is hiding their ride-sharing status from their insurance providers...these individuals will be on the hook for untold humongous damages and liability when a serious accident eventually happens. And UberX will simply deactivate the driver, deny liability and walk away, as it did in the case of death of Sofia Liu on 12/31/13 in San Francisco! The insurance policy that UberX tauts is the secondary, and only a excess liability policy...the drivers own insurance is the primary insurance. But every personal car insurance has an exclusion that prohibits vehicle-for-hire activity. So not only any claim would be denied, but the policy would be cancelled too!
Lyft along with UberX had to form an peer-peer ride-sharing insurance coalition in California, the state where they have been operating the longest. Lyft and UberX wouldn't be wasting their energies on this venture if they didn't know that there were definite Insurance problems with their ride-sharing business model! Uberx, Lyft and SideCar need to STOP inducing and perpetuating this insurance fraud by having unwitting drivers sign-on in one municipality after another! After they have resolved the insurance issue, then perhaps they can try to take on the local regs. regarding taxicabs! I think the Feds need to step in and have a look at these deliberately misnamed "ride-sharing" outfits for violating RICO statutes for engaging in this fraud in one municipality after another!

Posted by chi1cabby on Mar. 06, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

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