Uber, Lyft, and Liability

uber logoTaxicab drivers are employees of the taxi company for which they drive. The taxi company generally insures both the employee and the vehicle. If the driver is injured on the job, he or she can make a workers’ compensation claim. If he or she gets into an accident, the taxi’s insurance policy covers all injured parties or property. This is not only for car accidents. If the tax driver is stabbed, choked, or otherwise assaulted while on duty, the employer will cover medical costs.

This is most certainly not the case with emerging ride-share companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. The drivers for these companies are independent contractors. Therefore, if a ride-share driver is assaulted while on duty, he or she must pay his or her own medical bills and there is no workers’ compensation available. Also, the drivers must use their personal auto insurance policies in case of an accident. Most personal auto insurance policies will not cover any damages if the policyholder was driving for profit. Auto insurance companies consider such driving “commercial,” and require the driver to possess a commercial policy. Although, some analysts predict that there will eventually be hybrid policies available, for now, there are only pilot programs available through GEICO and USAA. In the meanwhile, a survey conducted in Austin, Texas revealed that 90%+ percent of ride-share drivers had not told their personal auto insurance companies about their jobs as drivers and they did not know that they were not covered for ride-share driving in case of an accident.

This means that if you are a passenger in an Uber car and the driver gets into an accident, his personal insurance policy most likely does not cover you and the driver does not even realize it. If you are injured due to assault, you may have to sue either the assaulter or the driver, but the ride-share company will not accept liability. However, Uber and Lyft provide secondary or supplementary insurance, up to a million dollars, they say, to cover passengers if the driver’s is exhausted. The problem is that this supplementary insurance often does not kick in if the driver is underinsured (meaning, that he or she s not insured for the amount that he or she should be) and the supplementary insurance does not pay for some medical bills.

Until recently, if you were hit and seriously injured by an Uber driver on duty while he or she was between fares, Uber would not cover any of your damages. On December 31, 2013, an Uber driver in San Francisco killed a six-year-old girl when his vehicle struck her. Uber’s statement on its website said it was not responsible because the Uber driver was not transporting a passenger at the time, nor was he on his way to pick up a passenger.

The good news is that, as of June 24th this year, 19 states put laws into effect that forced Uber and Lyft to change their policies regarding insurance. Now Uber and Lyft cover third party and passenger injuries even if the involved ride-share driver was not carrying a fare at the time, or picking one up. Also, Uber and Lyft now carry primary insurance instead of supplementary, meaning that you can use the company insurance first, before you have to deal with the driver’s insurance, which is always likely to be less comprehensive.

Lyft appears to be more cooperative and congenial in the aftermath of accidents. Whereas Uber put out curt statements denying any liability when the six-year-old was killed, when Lyft had its first fatality—a Lyft driver swerved to avoid a stalled car and hit a tree killing a passenger—Lyft put out the following statement: “We are deeply saddened to hear this news and will continue to support those involved as well as authorities in the ongoing investigation.” Lyft made no attempt to deny liability.

Furthermore, even now, after Uber and Lyft have changed their policies to more fully cover third parties and passengers, ride-share drivers cannot rely on them for all of their damages. In the case of a collision that damages the ride-share vehicle, the driver must get it repaired.

Generally, passengers who are involved in two-car accidents do not have to worry about proving liability. One of the drivers of the two cars will be found liable, or both will be. Problems tend to arise when the insurance companies for the two drivers get into fights over which driver is more liable. Another common issue is when there were multiple passengers and the driver’s policy is exhausted. Finally, you have to consider that ride-share drivers depend on their ability to drive (as well as their ability to carry affordable auto insurance) for their livelihood so they may fight you with everything they have if you need to make a claim against them. For these reasons and many others, you want to call experienced ride-share liability attorneys, Brill and Rinaldi.