With the increase in ride-sharing services, such as Lyft and Uber, most car accident attorneys have handled a claim involving one of these services by now. Clients have many questions about their rights when they are injured in a car crash by a negligent Lyft driver or Uber driver. In 2017, these ride-sharing services together accounted for 16 million rides per day driven by 4 million different drivers. The number of injury claims generated by this staggering amount of activity continues to increase.
Early in these companies’ history, Uber took the position in personal injury litigation that it was not the employer of its driver and, therefore, was not liable for injuries caused by its driver. This issue has been pretty well resolved in the law. Most courts hold that ride-sharing drivers are considered employees for purposes of automobile liability, so that the ride-sharing company is liable for injuries caused by its drivers’ negligence. The legal concept that an employer is held responsible for the negligent acts of its employee, called respondeat superior or vicarious liability, is a well-established legal principle. It is an important principle, since individual drivers may themselves have limited means and coverage limits on their personal insurance that is inadequate to cover the costs associated with a catastrophic injury or serious personal injury. So, personal injury victims can look to the employer for full compensation. Holding large corporations accountable, like Lyft and Uber, has an added benefit. When these corporations face liability for their drivers’ negligence, they are adopt safety measures to minimize the risk of injury and maximize the safety of other drivers and passengers. Still, bad car collisions happen.
When a Lyft or Uber passenger is injured by the negligence of their driver, the injured passenger may face the claim that the case is subject to the arbitration clause contained in the terms of service applicable to the ride-sharing agreement. Note that the terms of service only apply to the passenger who contacted the driver, not other passengers who might join in the ride. Further, in some States, the arbitration clauses have been deemed to be invalid. Corporations use arbitration clauses to increase the expense of litigation and to manipulate the process in order to designate arbitrators who are biased in their favor.
Another consideration when a passenger brings a claim against a negligent driver is whether the passenger was using a seatbelt at the time of the car crash. In some States, the law includes a so-called “seatbelt defense,” which holds that failure to use a seatbelt can be used by the defense to mitigate damages or preclude a claim altogether.
When a ride-sharing driver causes a motor vehicle accident, the personal injury attorney’s first task is to find out whether they were “on the clock.” The ride-sharing companies’ liability typically begins when the driver actively engages in the process of driving to meet a passenger. Before this time period, or after the passenger is dropped off, the driver is considered to be on his/her own time. In this instance, the driver’s own personal automobile insurance policy coverage applies. Note that when the driver is “on the clock,” the Uber and Lyft automobile policies provide both general liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. This means that liability coverage extends to drivers of other vehicles who are injured by the negligence of the driver, but also uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage extends to the ride-sharing driver and his/her passengers when they are injured by the negligence of another driver. The applicability of coverage varies by State.
Due to the unique nature of personal injury lawsuits arising out of an automobile collision involving a ride-sharing driver, it is important for personal injury lawyers to obtain information regarding the terms of service, driver and vehicle history, and insurance information during the discovery process. In addition, GPS data and trip information might prove valuable. According to one legal expert: “Ride-share companies keep location and route data on all drivers while the mobile app is activated, including which direction the driver was traveling, what route was taken, or when the driver was at a particular location.” Likewise, similar information, including speed at the time of impact, can be obtained from automobiles fitted with “black boxes.” This information can prove valuable in cases where fault is in dispute.