Major online food delivery service Ele.me has issued a public apology to the family of a revered doctor who died after a scooter crash several months ago that was caused by one of its couriers in downtown Shanghai.
The apology from the Alibaba-owned company comes amid a public outcry for delivery drivers to show more respect for traffic rules and lives.
Doctor Li Mouqiu, who co-founded the emergency departments at Shanghai's two major hospitals, Ruijin and Huashan, was knocked off his electric scooter by a courier carrying takeout orders for Ele.me on Feb 24 near the crossroads of Zhongshan South Second Road and Caoxi Road.
Li, who struck his head when he fell, was rushed to the hospital but never regained consciousness. He died in intensive care on March 26 at age 75.
The family sued the company for damages, with a hearing held at Xihui District People's Court on Aug. 8. The courier accepted blame for the incident, and his employer's insurance company agreed to cover the compensation.
The court's verdict is pending. However, Li's family has said it was unsatisfied with Ele.me's defense and the behavior of its representatives.
On Wednesday, Li's daughter, Rita Li, aired her complaints on Sina Weibo, writing that Ele.me had denied that it was accountable for the accident, which was caused by an employee of its third-party logistics service supplier, and that the family had not received any apology from the company after the accident.
She said the grieving family was deeply hurt by the claim made by the company's lawyer in court that "each life is worth the same", referring to the same compensation standard for every victim.
She added that the family was even more disappointed by the indifference shown by the company's employees in court. She cited the company's representatives receiving phone calls during the hearing and having a lighthearted discussion outside the court after the session ended, smoking and laughing.
The post quickly spread online. It was forwarded more than 1,000 times and attracted hundreds of comments, many in support of the family.
In response, Ele.me apologized to the family on Thursday for its representatives' "inhumane" attitude and use of language, attributing the delay in its apology to inefficient communication between the company and its logistics service supplier.
The company also promised stricter training and reviews of its couriers to ensure they abide by traffic rules to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Many netizens remained unconvinced, arguing that the company would have reacted differently had the victim not been a noted figure.
Crashes caused by couriers are not rare in China, the world's biggest food delivery market. By the end of last year, about 1 million riders delivered more than 27 million orders every day for Ele.me, Baidu Waimai and Meituan Waimai, the three biggest online food delivery platforms.
Crashes involving food delivery drivers have been rampant, largely because couriers - mostly riding electric scooters - break traffic rules to avoid fines for being late.
In Shanghai, delivery drivers were responsible for a crash every 2.5 days last year, according to Shanghai's traffic management authority. Nine people were killed and 134 injured in 117 road accidents involving mail and food deliveries last year in the city. Some 43 accidents were related to couriers from Ele.me, followed by Meituan Waimai, whose couriers were involved in 29 accidents.
Similar incidents were reported in cities such as Nanjing and Shenzhen, resulting in a public outcry for measures to enforce training and stricter management of couriers so they abide by traffic rules.
In Shenzhen, traffic authorities have signed deals with online takeout platforms, agreeing that the traffic police would regularly inform them of violations by their riders, and that punishments are expected.
Nanjing is drafting rules that include a blacklist of couriers found to be criminally liable in traffic accidents and forbidding them from future employment in the business.
Online platforms including Ele.me say they have organized mandatory training and incorporated road safety tests in their courier job applications.
After watching footage of the accident that caused her father's death, Li's daughter said it was avoidable because traffic was not heavy and her father was riding his scooter slowly, leaving enough space for the courier to overtake him safely. Yet the courier rushed by and knocked her father down.
"Slow down, don't drive in haste and don't disregard others' safety because you've got insurance," the daughter said in a message directed to all couriers on Sina Weibo.