DoorDash ought to cease texting its drivers whereas they’re transferring, lawsuit says

Loved ones hold a vigil for Latitia Austin Ahmad on Ashby Avenue and Newbury Street in South Berkeley on August 5, 2021. Photo credit: Emilie Raguso

According to new paperwork filed in the Alameda County Superior Court last week, DoorDash should stop texting its drivers while they are moving and do more to limit distracted driving altogether.

Attorney Mark Webb has filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking an injunction ordering DoorDash – a multi-billion dollar company calling itself the country’s leading delivery app – its practices change after a fatal collision in Berkeley that killed a DoorDash driver, a pedestrian in July.

Webb said he believes his case will be the first lawsuit against DoorDash to seek injunctive relief.

“DOORDASH has so far failed to implement a technology that prevents Dasher from texting illegally while driving,” said Webb’s lawsuit. “It turns a blind eye when its drivers are statistically likely to cut in the name of profit.”

Sharif Ahmad and Delvonnia Cooper with their aunt (center). Courtesy: Ahmad family

On July 26, Latitia Austin Ahmad, 54, was hit and fatally injured on Ashby Avenue by a DoorDash driver on her way to pick up a delivery. The driver, Helen Dale, also hit Ahmad’s daughter, 25-year-old Delvonnia Cooper, who survived but suffered serious injuries.

In August, Webb filed his accidental death lawsuit against Dale and DoorDash on behalf of Cooper and her brother Sharif Ahmad, citing DoorDash’s “speed-based” business model as an integral part of the problem.

On Thursday, Webb updated this paperwork to target DoorDash directly. (He dismissed Dale from the lawsuit on a separate insurance settlement.) In addition to receiving interim relief, he has sought damages from the court that go beyond simple indemnity and seek to punish a defendant for outrageous conduct.

When DoorDash approved Dale as a driver, it overlooked her history of relocation violations and her driving license outside of the state of Oregon, which court records said she had not updated even though she had moved to California months earlier.

DoorDash has not inspected Dale’s vehicle, interviewed her in person, or advised her to install a hands-free cell phone cradle, Webb wrote. Dale said during a testimony that she had placed the phone she was using to navigate next to the gear stick next to the driver’s seat and that she didn’t see Ahmad until she hit her. The video of the collision shows Dale hitting Ahmad at full speed.

“The fact that Dale did not stop or even slowed down indicates that she has completely taken her eyes off the road,” said the lawsuit.

DoorDash, Webb wrote, has a “duty of care” to properly train its drivers on road safety, regardless of whether they are viewed as employees or contractors.

“Nobody at DOORDASH told her that it was illegal to use an unmounted cell phone while driving, or advised her not to drive with an unmounted cell phone,” the lawsuit said. “To the extent that DOORDASH purports to be the ‘last mile infrastructure for local commerce’, it has a duty to ensure that its ‘infrastructure’ … has adequate security measures to prevent the illegal use of cell phones while driving or prevent. “

In the lawsuit, Webb says the DoorDash business model “will lead to increased rates of motor vehicle accidents, including accidents involving cars compared to pedestrians,” as drivers have incentives to “complete trips as quickly as possible”.

During their deliveries, DoorDash sends its drivers an SMS and sends mobile phone notifications through its app. Webb says the app will make it clear when drivers are moving, and that is when DoorDash should stop sending notifications.

“It is our position that DoorDash is legally responsible for this accident,” said Webb in response to a query from Berkeleyside. “If you don’t rethink your practice of texting drivers with unmounted cell phones while driving, there will be more accidents and tragedies.”

Webb has asked the court for a jury trial. The case is due to be heard by a judge in February.

Loved ones hold a vigil for Latitia Austin Ahmad on Ashby Avenue and Newbury Street in South Berkeley on August 5, 2021. Photo credit: Emilie Raguso

DoorDash told Berkeleyside that the company believes driver safety is important.

“We take Dasher’s safety very seriously,” said Briana Megid, a company spokeswoman, “that’s why we invest in products, policies, and partnerships that allow us to lead the industry while better serving all members of our community.”

However, most of his safety tips seem to be aimed at keeping drivers safe from crime. Berkeleyside could not find any mention of driver requirements or guidance regarding hands-free cell phone mounts in DoorDash’s online materials.

Berkeleyside has requested this information from DoorDash and will update this story when it is provided.

As a result of Proposition 22 approved in November 2020, DoorDash requires all California dashboards to pass a safety clearance that covers “safe driving and food handling”. More detailed information on this screening was not available at the time of publication.

Alameda County Superior Court records, previously reviewed by Berkeleyside, showed that DoorDash was named twice as a defendant in alleged injury lawsuits over the past year: once in connection with a collision between a driver and a cyclist in Oakland and once in connection with a collision with a driver and a man on a motorcycle in an unincorporated area of ​​the district. These cases are ongoing, but DoorDash has denied liability citing a number of laws.

Lawsuits against the company for wrongful death appear to be even rarer. However, in August, the children of a Louisiana woman who was reportedly killed when a DoorDash driver hit her in her front yard filed an unjustified death lawsuit, citing DoorDash as a party to the case.

The grocery delivery service, which was founded by several Stanford students in 2013, also faced allegations of inflating customers, engaging in fraudulent business practices and taking tips from drivers. The company has denied many of the claims. However, last year DoorDash agreed to a $ 2.5 million settlement related to tip theft allegations.

But the company, now valued at more than $ 30 billion, has also had tremendous success. The company went public last year and turned its founders into “overnight billionaires.”

Featured photo: Emilie Raguso

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