Family sues Bite Squad after driver kills pedestrian in Minneapolis

The family of Debra Skolos is suing Bite Squad after a delivery driver accidentally hit her on Penn Avenue.

The family of Debra Skolos is suing Bite Squad after a delivery driver accidentally hit her on Penn Avenue. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

On the night of February 1 last year, Carl Schaefbauer of Delano was doing some delivery driving in Minneapolis. He was in his parents’ Toyota Rav 4, heading down Penn Avenue near the Lynnhurst neighborhood, using his phone’s GPS to navigate the route.

He was distracted by his phone. And speeding. And not quite sober. At least that’s what the family of Debra Skolos claims.

Debra Skolos was crossing Penn near 54th Street West when Schaefbauer hit her. She sustained “devastating injuries” and died later that night. Her next of kin is suing Carl, as well as his parents, Rodger and Sandra, who had agreed to let him use the car – a decision described as “negligence.”

They’re also suing Bite Squad – the company that gave Carl this side hustle in the first place. Because Carl was “acting within the course and scope of his employment,” the complaint argues, the Minnesota delivery company should be on the hook.

Ruth Skolos, Debra’s mother, is asking for in excess of $50,000 from the driver, his parents, and his employer.

Carl has already pleaded guilty to one count of underage drinking and driving. (He was under 21 at the time, and according to the complaint, he had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.03 after the crash.) But what remains to be seen is whether Bite Squad will take the fall.

A statement issued by the company called the collision a “tragic accident” and said the company extended its “deepest condolences” to Skolos’ family. Besides that – because this is “an open legal matter” – nothing more would be said on the subject.

It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s sued over a mishap in the gig economy. In May, an Austin, Texas couple sued their driver and Uber for a similar incident. Their driver was allegedly drunk and “distracted” by her phone. The couple she picked up ended up suffered multiple broken bones and whiplash from a resulting crash.

In Detroit, a woman sued both Lyft and Uber after a crash in 2017. She had taken a ride from a driver that was hustling for both companies at the same time, and he allegedly got “distracted” by one or both of the apps -- right before he plowed into the back end of a tractor-trailer at 70 miles per hour.

What these plaintiffs argue is that the way Lyft, Uber, DoorDash -- and yes, Bite Squad -- do business is dangerous. They argue a driver can’t reasonably babysit her phone and check notifications while driving safely. And if they’re right, it could be a costly revelation for companies like these.

Skolos, of Bloomington, was 47 years old when she was killed.