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A state court judge in San Francisco reportedly issued a tentative ruling that rejected Uber Technologies Inc. claim that it had no responsibility for the death of a 19-year-old student. The lawsuit was filed by the relatives of Stella Yeh, who was run over and killed on a San Diego freeway after one of the ride-hailing company’s drivers allegedly ordered her out of his car and a second driver failed to pick her up.
Yeh had been drinking with friends one night in 2018 when one of them ordered an Uber ride to take her to her dorm. During the ride, she vomited on the dashboard. Per court records, the driver responded by exiting the freeway and ordered her out of the car. Yeh then 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, got hit by two cars, and killed.
Uber argued that it shouldn’t be held liable for the actions or inactions of the drivers because they’re independent contractors and not company employees. Authored by Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and DoorDash, Prop 22 went into effect in mid-Dec. 2020 after an aggressive public relations campaign of more than $200 million launched by the companies — making it the most expensive ballot measure in California’s history. The new law essentially exemps the companies from labor laws, including paying its drivers benefits like paying minimum wage and providing health insurance, since they can classify its workers as independent contractors and not employees.
Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman, however, didn’t take up the issue of the drivers’ status. He ruled that Uber is a “common carrier,” like a taxi company, and as such had a duty to care for Yeh. 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. However, the judge ruled that the family hadn’t sufficiently supported its claim that the company had misrepresented the safety of its service.
Yeh was reportedly a second-year student at the University of San Diego majoring in Behavioral Neuroscience with the College of Arts and Sciences.
Per Uber Help, cleaning fees can be charged to riders to help drivers if they are unable to continue driving and must clean the mess themselves or access professional cleaning services. When a cleaning fee is offered, both the driver and the rider who made the “mess” are informed about how much the cleaning fee is, which ranges from $20 to $150. For vomit, Uber’s fee is $40. The driver must put in a request to be compensated — an option both drivers in Yeh’s case did not make.