Uber Technologies Inc. lost the first round in a lawsuit filed by the relatives of a university student who was run over and killed on a San Diego freeway after one of the company’s drivers allegedly ordered her out of his car and a second driver failed to pick her up.
A state court judge in San Francisco issued a tentative ruling Wednesday that rejected the ride-hailing company’s claim that it had no responsibility for the death of 19-year-old Stella Yeh.
The sophomore at University of California at San Diego had been drinking with friends one night in May 2018 when one of them summoned an Uber to drive her to her dorm. During the ride, she vomited on the dashboard. The driver responded by exiting the freeway and ordered her out of the car, according to court records.
Yeh summoned a second Uber and was stumbling along the freeway ramp when it arrived. Rather than take her home, the second driver “abandoned her,” according to the complaint. A few minutes later, Yeh wandered onto the freeway, where she was hit by two cars and killed.
Uber has argued that it shouldn’t be held liable for the actions or inactions of the drivers because they’re independent contractors, not company employees.
Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman didn’t take up the issue of the drivers’ status, but ruled that Uber is a “common carrier,” like a taxi company, and as such, had a duty to care for Yeh. And that duty, he said, doesn’t end until a passenger is “discharged into a relatively safe space.”
Yeh’s family is suing Uber and the two drivers for unspecified damages.
In a small victory for Uber, the judge ruled that the family hadn’t sufficiently supported its claim that the company had misrepresented the safety of its service. Uber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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