Crash Victim Lawsuit: App Use by Uber Drivers Is Negligent and Illegal

Erin Sauchelli, who was seriously injured by an Uber driver while walking in Manhattan, has filed a lawsuit claiming the app Uber drivers use to respond to hails causes driver distraction in violation of New York State law. The driver, Aliou Diallo, killed Sauchelli’s boyfriend, Wesley Manning, in the collision, but he remains in good standing with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post
The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

Sauchelli and Mensing were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue last January 3 when Diallo drove into them with a Mercedes SUV. Mensing, 27, died at the scene. Sauchelli, 30, was hospitalized.

“The driver had accepted a trip and was en route to pick up his customers at the time of the accident and he did not have any passengers in the car,” Uber told Streetsblog after the crash.

Diallo was summonsed for driving without a license. The citation was dismissed two days later. Diallo was not charged criminally by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for killing Mensing and injuring Sauchelli. The Taxi and Limousine Commission said Diallo’s license to drive a cab was suspended after the crash, but TLC records indicate it is currently valid. Diallo was also reinstated by Uber.

A suit filed by Sauchelli claims she was “a lawful pedestrian in the crosswalk” when she was struck, and that the crash was caused by negligence on the part of Diallo, vehicle owner Tea Bromberg, Malcolm Limo Express, Uber base Schmecken, and Uber, all of whom are named as defendants.

The suit says Diallo was speeding and disregarded a traffic signal. It claims Diallo broke state law that prohibits using an electronic device while driving, and that Uber “knew or should have known that the use of the Uber App by Uber Drivers, including but not limited to” Diallo was a violation of state code intended “to protect individuals from injury and death due to driver distraction and driver inattentiveness.”

“Mr. Diallo was driving an Uber car, en route to pick up a passenger at the time of this accident,” said Robert A. Sgarlato, Sauchelli’s attorney, in a statement emailed to Streetsblog. “We believe that this particular stage in the ‘Uber Car process’ leads to a toxic combination of Uber Drivers that are both hurried to pick up passengers, and distracted by the influx of information coming from the Uber application.”

Uber declined comment on the lawsuit.

Sauchelli’s suit is similar to one filed by the family of Sofia Liu, a 6-year-old killed by an Uber driver in San Francisco in 2013. According to the New York Times, that suit claims the Uber driver app violates California state laws against distracted driving, and that Uber “was negligent in the ‘development, implementation and use of the app.’” Uber contends that the driver, who was charged with manslaughter, was an Uber software licensee, not an Uber employee, and was not carrying a passenger or on his way to pick up a fare at the time of the crash.

Using an electronic device while driving is also against Taxi and Limousine Commission rules, but the TLC and the City Council haven’t addressed potential safety issues related to electronic hails. The TLC allows yellow cab drivers to use e-hail apps, but some medallion owners want the agency to loosen regulations governing their development.

There are currently more Uber-affiliated cars in NYC than yellow cabs, though cabs carry far more passengers. Uber intends to double the number of drivers who work for the company in NYC this year.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Uber is insured from the time the ride is accepted to the time t passenger is picked up and dropped off.
    If you read the article, Uber claims that the driver was between shifts. The plaintiff claims otherwise.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Operating my electronic radio makes me illegal, car manufacturers are negligent and should be sued for every accident where the radio, CD, … is on. /sarcasm

  • Eugene Weixel

    She generalized saying that the successful Uber driver must use the app while driving.

  • Eugene Weixel

    I’d say that there are no.accurate statistics regarding taxi and black car accidents. Cops do half ads investigation of those things.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Could you show us the quote? I have driven much more than her and the Uber app is not a problem. The GPS app is more of a problem, but is legal to use here in Illinois & in most if not all states. She was having issues trying to get her phone to verbally give turn by turn instructions. This is not an Uber app function and the only times I had this problem is when I had the volume turned all the way down.
    You continue to hold on to your misguided beliefs even after it is explained to you what happened and how she was confused about where the Uber app ends and the GPS app is running.

  • Eugene Weixel

    According to the TLC yellow taxi drivers work nine hours a day. Up until a few months ago I was putting in a good hard 11-13 hours a night six nights a week.Usually you don’t see many yellow taxis out between 4:00am and seven. I love those early morning hours though. The earnings the TLC quotes reflect that nine working hours. Now I’m into my semi retirement and I only work two or three nights a week and I almost always take a thirty to sixty minute nap.plus one or two coffee breaks, so I m not able to compare last year to this first hand, but other younger and more financially pressed drivers say Uber hasn’t hurt them and although I ‘ve slowed down I feel as though the pace of business is the same as last summer.
    K

  • Eugene Weixel

    “Over my time driving for Uber I find looking at my phone while I’m driving-something I almost never do- to be an essential part of success, whether I’m keeping an eye on directions so I don’t miss turns or checking the constantly changing “heat maps” showing where the surge-price fare are.”

  • Will Mette

    First, if she had her phone working properly, the app would have announced the directions and that is the GPS app which is legal in all states. The fact that she is distracted by the GPS and could not get it to work properly says more about the reporter than it says about Uber.
    Second, while Uber would like you to waste gas chasing the disappearing heat zones, drivers should not fall for it. Also, the heat map is like a GPS and is not distracting for most drivers as it is for her. If it is, it should be treated like a regular map and read while parked. It is less distracting than a cabbie looking for a street hail.

  • Will Mette

    In Chicago, taxi drivers are suing the city because they say half of the taxi drivers make less than minimum wage. I say give all taxi drivers a medallion and they will make money.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Uber is the criminal enterprises that just keeps building the dossier against itself. In California they’ve just been fined SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS.for refusing to give information about service to the disabled, lack of service to certain neighborhoods, CAUSED AND NUMBER OF ACCIDENTS. Did I miss anything? Giving the state of California this information was a legal condition for California to permit them to operate a taxi service (which is what Uber is).I Will now.out of our conversation now, as you will strive to have the last word. Thoughtful people are becoming increasingly aware of the essentially criminal nature of your company.

  • Will Mette

    Uber is appealing the fine. They apparently feel they should not have to give out information that could help their competitors. Uber’s report was ruled incomplete, Lyft & Sidecar’s reports were accepted. Do taxis need to report the beginning and ending zip codes of every fare? They will probably will wiggle out of this shortly.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Without a cap on the number of drivers cities will be returning to the days of the early thirties. Look up why LaGuardia brought in the medallion system.

  • Clifford Tucker

    In any New York car or taxi accident, drivers can be liable for injuries. Can Uber, Lyft, or any company like it be liable? Some states regulate the use of cabs and require additional insurance. Another question is whether there is an employee or independent contractor relationship between Uber and the driver.

    http://www.fisherinjurylawyers.com/new-york-uber-accident/

  • If you drove for Uber for 4 hours, you would see that it is very easy to avoid touching the Uber app except when parked.

  • Daytona Beach

    Demonstrabely false.When you get an uber fare you have to rush before
    they cancel the ride.It is okay Sat and Sunday morning but other times uber
    and their drivers are a pain in the neck with their double parking cutting across 4 lanes because the driver and customer can’t find see each other,uber drivers hovering blocking traffic because their waiting for or can’t find their passenger.Enough already:uber is great for the suburbs
    and rural areas.

  • Will Mette

    Tell that to the taxi driver who cut me off because he saw a passenger with his hand raised. Didn’t even see me because he was watching the people and not the road & traffic.

  • Will Mette

    Oh my God, Limos, Uber, & other taxis are stealing your rides, shocking.
    In Chicago, the Uber turnover rate is close to 100% per year, about the same as truck & taxi drivers.

  • Daytona Beach

    Lol tell the same to the ubermonkey
    who does the same 24/7

  • Arthur Issac

    Reporters should report when they are making paid posts, it is the law.

  • Arthur Issac

    How many taxi drivers look at people on the side of the road taking their eyes off of the road. Taxis do this more than Ubers drive around empty, therefore Ubers are safer to drive than taxis.

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