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Uber driver charged with vehicular manslaughter

The former driver for the on-demand car service is facing legal action after allegedly hitting and killing a 6-year-old on New Year's Eve in San Francisco.

The family of an ex-Uber driver charged with vehicular manslaughter says Uber was in part responsible. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

A driver for Uber, the popular ride-hailing service, has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection with the death of a young girl crossing a San Francisco street last New Year's Eve.

Syed Muzzafar was charged Monday by the San Francisco District Attorney's Office with allegedly striking and killing 6-year-old Sofia Liu while she walked with her family in a crosswalk, a spokesman told Ars Technica. He will be arraigned Wednesday. Muzzafar, whom Uber says was off-duty at the time, was banned by the company after the incident. Liu's family filed wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits against Uber and Muzzafar in January.

Though Muzzafar was charged with manslaughter, Liu's family said Uber hasn't been "held responsible" like it should be.

"The last thing I saw before the Uber driver killed my little girl, and forever changed my life, was him looking down at his phone," Huan Kuang, the girl's mother, is quoted as saying in a statement issued by her attorney on Tuesday. "The driver is a man who was working to feed his family and he did wrong, but Uber is the one who makes the drivers look at their phones as part of the way they do business. Uber is just as responsible as Muzzafar, but they say they are not."

Following Liu's death, Uber issued a short statement that read, in part, "the driver in question was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident." But the Liu family's attorney, Chris Dolan, has said that whether Muzzafar had a rider at that particular moment makes no difference.

"The design and use of these mobile applications requires drivers to violate the law as they have just seconds to respond to instant messages from Uber or they will lose the fare and receive negative ratings and possible termination of their driver status," Dolan said in Tuesday's statement.

Muzzafar's attorney, John Hamasaki, said the app was not an issue. "This is not a case about distracted driving," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The evidence will show that Mr. Muzaffar was not talking on the phone or texting and was not engaged with an Uber device."

Uber did not respond to a request for comment on the news of the charges against Muzzafar.

The charging of Muzzafar is the latest in a string of recent troubles for Uber, which is valued between $35 billion and $40 billion. The company has faced criticism of all sorts, ranging from cities banning its service to allegations of rape by drivers to concerns about its privacy policies and the way it manages access to rider logs.

The company is also facing a firestorm after a senior executive said Uber should consider hiring researchers to smear journalists who wrote critically of the company.

Some cities have tried to ban the company's service outright. Portland, Ore., has sued the company, three days after it began operating in the city, accusing it of licensing violations.

Muzzafar has been released on $50,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

Dolan said the wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits are in the discovery phase and that he has demanded Uber produce related company documents.