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.

  • Market Cap Makes Right

    Broadly, does Uber assert that it only has potential liability for crashes when its driver are carrying passengers? This is a another competitive advantage vs yellows or green car owners which have some liability for behavior of lease drivers whether car has passenger or not.

  • Tyler

    Negligence, yes. 100% the driver’s fault. Does it have anything to do with using an electronic item while driving? I find this to be a stretch. Last time I checked all of those CB radios are electronic devices and oh so distracting.

  • Visit the independent forum
    http://UberPeople.net for diverse perspectives on all issues affecting Uber & Lyft drivers.

  • Jose mendivil

    Trusth me this forumis a joke they dont allow the freedom of speach at all
    Running by travis And his crew
    They only want to read beautiful lies but not real issues
    As soon you said something real as soon you are banned

  • Jose mendivil

    After travis cartel new fare prices
    We the drivers can not quit
    We cant give up
    We can not be too shabby or selfish
    We started this crab; now we got continuing supporting travis and the pseudo riders scum, now
    Whats going to happen with them?accostumed to pay nanopeanuts for taxi we can not let them down
    This poor disgusted pseudo riders are not willing to ride anymore on the stinky taxis
    Also with this new rates homeless and walfare recipients would be able to have a decent transportation
    Travis will be very proud of us for help him to depreciate the taxi industry now “new rates” by a 80% and make believe all this cheap, frugal, arrogant, indecent, cinics, unethical, disgusted, shameless, classless pseudo riders that we are a bounch of mental retarders doing this just for fun or the pleasure to meet such scum
    Keep doing like that ill like to see how you end up in the next comming days dealing with the stress and the pressure of know that some scum people is rating you despite the nanopeanuts they are paying us comparing with the disgusted stinky cabs
    So please take away that stupid idea of quit from your head
    Travis at this point is very pleased
    And dont forget; he loves us

  • fred

    Travis may be proud because we make him mega bucks

  • fred

    Safety tip of the day:

    When getting a call carefully look to the left and right, pull over,touch the screen to accept the customer don’t know if you’re at a red light or pulled over for anything.
    Don’t drive and try to look at the screen to see where you have to go.
    Safety first.

  • MarcoDaPolo

    yeah that forum is a complete joke
    no true freedom of speech
    and they are ban crazy

  • ralph

    Nice to hear that someone is trying to hold Uber accountable. Seems like they couldn’t care less about laws and safety. Not that yellow cab drivers and the TLC are any better.

  • pitbullstew

    imagine if you will an uber driver with the app on the dash, who works for Lyft, yes, with the app on the dash on yet another device, while watching both for the most lucrative ehail, as he glances at his gps and cell phone for texts?
    think its out of the realm of possibilty? think again.

  • vinny

    Is the driver supposed to run them over twice if he is in 2x surge pricing mode?

  • Jose mendivil

    I know
    Travis loves us
    Lol

    Subject: Re: Comment on Crash Victim Lawsuit: App Use by Uber Drivers Is Negligent and Illegal

  • Frank Barlow

    That’s because Uber driver are driving like crazy. A major hazard risk all over New York City with authorities asleep at the wheel allowing this massacre to take place. Uber criminals must pay the price. Very sad. RIP.

  • Eugene Weixel

    The driver apps clearly cause distracted driving. And what Uber customer does not phone the driver if he’s a minute late ? Is it even part of NYPD procedure to investigate driver app use in crashes? Are any stats kept? The TLC shares culpability with Uber. Every Commissioner who voted to unleash these apps on our streets is a criminal as are our asleep at the wheel City Councilors.
    Redeyetaxi.blogspot.com

  • Eugene Weixel

    The law says a driver must be legally parked or standing in order to use an electronic device. Except for Uber ? I think not.

  • Eugene Weixel

    The law is the law. Uber surely understands that the drivers will violate traffic safety codes in order to function as Uber drivers, but eighteen billions of dollars trumps any shit ass traffic codes.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Why didn’t the cops ask Diallo for a look at the app and if he was on it when he mowed two young people down?

  • PeterBelles

    Mr . Chi Cabby who posts all day , you’re not a real cab driver.
    And Uberpeople does ban people for no reason, a lot like Uber does.

  • Willie Wilmette

    When driving to a customer, the GPS app is on top and the Uber app is hidden. US News says Uber drivers as safe as taxis.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Wow, in Chicago it is the taxi drivers who drive like crazy and stop in the middle of busy intersections to pick up passengers.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Taxis are always at 2x. That must be why they they drive like the do.

  • Willie Wilmette

    You are asking why NYC cops did not do their job?
    That is the $20 question.

  • Eugene Weixel

    When without a customer the driver is attending to.his one or two or even three apps. Thank goodness for small favors in a couple of weeks he’ll be limited to only one app.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Up to and including Kalanick and his hedge fund backers. I agree. Lock them up.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Two wrongs never made a right. In the case of the app free taxi driver you have a case of violating regulations. In the case of the driver with the app(s) he’s doing as expected and encouraged to do. Disregard the safety of the public in pursuit of profits for Kalanick and his hedge fund backers.

  • Eugene Weixel

    The question is a rhetorical one.

  • Willie Wilmette

    You are so right, that is exactly what I do. I park because I can get fired if I pick up a street hail and I do not want to waste gas driving around for no reason. Then I read emails while Uber & Lyft run in the background, sometimes I have 10 apps running like phone, hangouts, chrome, …

  • Willie Wilmette

    Your lack of understanding on how the Uber app works is showing. Used cost effectively, a driver has the Uber app on and is parked while waiting for a ping. Once pinged, he presses accept ride and then presses navigate. The GPS pops up with turn by turn directions and the Uber app does not have any relevant information until you arrive for the pickup location. The same is true after the pickup.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Yes.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Emily Guendelsberger have it up in a recent article “I was an undercover Uber driver” in the Philadelphia City Paper. The article focused on driver income but in it she says it’s necessary to drive app distracted to function as an Uber driver. This is parallel to my experience with Hailo gu.com/p/3hytp and my own observations driving a taxi in New York City. I’ve been stuck in intersections behind Uber drivers sitting in the intersection fiddling with his driver app.

  • Eugene Weixel

    See my comment above that mentioned reporter Emily Guendelsberger’s experience as an Uber driver. And I know that you head to an area where there are customers or a space to park in. once you drop off.

  • ahwr

    Uber drivers don’t deadhead to an area where they get jobs faster? When you’re driving to an area to wait for a job do you get pings you have an interest in responding to?

  • Willie Wilmette

    I don’t deadhead, I do like finding the nearest parking space. I find that I will get sent to the busiest parts sooner or later with a paying passenger. Sometimes, I will start driving home with my app on, if I get a ping I will take it, if not I go home. Who should pay when I have two rideshare apps running at the same time?

  • Willie Wilmette

    Amateurs may chase surges, surges tend to disappear by the time you get there.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Anybody can text and drive, that is why they made it illegal. The reason to have two rideshare apps running is so you can pick to first one to ping you, you do not know how much it pays or where it will take you until after you pick up the passenger . It is understandable that you did not know this since you have not driven for Uber or Lyft. I run all apps from one phone but there are some who use two phones.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Everyone has seen Uber drivers app fiddling while in motion. Call them amateurs who drive distracted for Uber.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Everyone has seen taxi drivers on the phone, that doesn’t mean that is encouraged. Two quick clicks is all it takes, about as easy as changing your radio station. Of course, the driver is at fault if they get distracted.

  • Eugene Weixel

    I doubt there are sufficient crash investigations and records of crash statistics to know for sure. Uber itself doubtless has a treasure trove of facts about Uber driver crashes. NYPD is as usual totally useless in this regard. Citypaper reporter Emily Guendelsberger tells the world that you cannot be a successful Uber driver without being a distracted driver. She tried.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Oh, no one should pay. After all, you have Uber behind you….

  • Eugene Weixel

    I’ll trust Emily Guendelsberger on the question of Uber drivers and app distracted driving. Unlike you and people who just want cheap labor rides, she had no dog in this fight when she reported first hand that you cannot be a successful Uber driver without being a distracted driver.

  • Willie Wilmette

    She mentions the app 5 times never saying it interfered with her driving. She did not say “distracted” even once, am I missing something? Can you quote her?

    She did say “the app takes me on a weird route.” But that is one of her errors, the Uber app does not do routing, iMaps, Waze, or Google Maps give the routing.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Correction, I did do a little deadheading away from the Dead Heads at Soldiers Field this weekend and away from airports where they refuse to collect the $4 per trip charge from anyone who is not a limo or taxi.

    Why drive 10 minutes away when I seldom have to wait 10 minutes? Sometimes, it gives me time to check a few emails, but most of the time just 1 or 2, if any.

  • Willie Wilmette

    Show us the app distracted driving quote, please.

    According to Google “Taxi drivers and chauffeurs earned an average of $12.12 an hour, or $25,200 a year, in 2013”. Looks like the taxi cartel is the one with “cheap labor rides”. I am not getting rich, but I am making more than $12/hour.

    The app is less distracting than taxi drivers looking for street hails.

  • Eugene Weixel

    What you’re missing is the fact that she found it “essential” to be looking at.her phone while driving, which she ordinarily almost never does as a non Uber driver, in order to be a successful Uber driver. Now in an article about the income a Uber driver makes, she felt like telling us that she has to do something while Ubering that she doesn’t ordinarily do. A little embarrassed or ashamed to be risking other people’s property, well being and lives in order to hold a slave labor gig.

  • Willie Wilmette

    What you missed is that she could not get her GPS app to call out the turns. I can use either Waze or Google Maps and they always have announced the turns for me. If she used an iPhone she may have been using Apple Maps which should also announced the turns.

    Again, at $12.12 per hour and 12 hour shifts, taxi drivers are the slaves you should be worried about.

  • Eugene Weixel

    I do.sorry about taxi.drivers, being one myself. I am concerned about a mega corporation making a bad situation worse. As it’s turning out though, if you follow the news, Uber’s been having a negligible impact on the yellow taxi drivers. They’re starving and abandoning the usurious sub prime auto loans arranged for them by Uber or resorting to becoming gypsy cab drivers.

  • Eugene Weixel

    @Uber in New York City has an accelerating attrition rate of fifty percent. If you are making a living from Uber you must be stealing street hails and hustling at airports. Watch out, there is law enforcement going on.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Bottom line is that the officials finally agree with me. No more 2 or 3 cell phones at a time while driving. No more input of data while you are in motion. And it’s clearer every day that the public prefers yellow taxis.

  • Eugene Weixel

    Google the daily caller article about big taxi defeating Uber in New York City. It explains why Uber drivers are leaving in droves and or going gypsy. Sheer desperation.

  • Willie Wilmette

    You are right about the car loans, buyer beware. I am glad Uber is having little impact on you and Yellow Cabs. It must mean that Uber is expanding the market to those who can not afford cabs. Most Uber drivers work less than 6 hours per day and would lose money leasing a taxi for a whole 12-hour shift. Uber’s failings make front page news (because they are so rare?), taxi failings are way in the back of the paper.

    So now I am a licensed gypsy cab driver, eh?

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