In recent years, ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft have become increasingly popular. They’re an easy, cost-effective way to get around. Uber boasts over 40 million monthly active riders. Lyft, Uber’s main competitor, had more than 160 million rides in 2016 alone. Three times more than 2015. With more Americans using ridesharing services than ever before, the risk of collisions involving these vehicles has also increased. What happens if you’re riding in an Uber or Lyft vehicle and injured when your driver causes an accident? Or what if someone driving for one of these companies hits you? Ideally, the company would accept responsibility. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.
Uber and Lyft’s Insurance
According to Uber’s website, the company has a $1 million liability policy. But it only applies if the driver is on their way to pick someone up and when they’re carrying passengers. So if the driver causes an injury accident, Uber’s insurance will pay up to $1 million for those injuries. While this is a lot of money, $1 million is the total Uber’s insurance will pay. For example, if an Uber driver rear ends another vehicle on the highway, causing serious injuries to his two passengers, as well as five people in the other car, the seven injured people will have to share the $1 million to pay for their medical bills. If even one victim sustained serious injuries, the coverage limit will likely not be enough.
Uber and Lyft’s Defenses
Over the past several years, there have been several high-profile incidents involving serious injuries or death caused by Uber and Lyft Drivers. In 2013, an Uber driver hit and killed a 6-year-old girl in San Francisco. The company denied responsibility for its driver’s actions, arguing that he was an “independent contractor” and not an employee. The girl’s family sued Uber and eventually reached a settlement for an undisclosed figure.
In 2015, another Uber driver hit two pedestrians in a cross-walk, killing one and seriously injuring the other. The surviving victim filed a lawsuit against Uber, alleging that their app causes distracted driving and accidents.
Lyft has also faced lawsuits for its drivers’ negligent actions. In 2014, a Lyft driver lost control of his vehicle and smashed into a tree. The accident killed one of his passengers and seriously injured the other. Eighteen months later, the company said it was still “investigating” the accident. It had not offered the victims a penny, despite the $1 million insurance policy. The surviving victim and the decedent’s family filed a lawsuit against Lyft for dragging their feet in settling these claims.
States Start Fighting Back
While Uber continues to assert the independent contractor designation for its drivers, the California Labor Commission ruled in 2015 that Uber drivers are employees. The company is also facing multiple class action lawsuits from its drivers to recognize them as employees and provide them with their lawful benefits. From a personal injury standpoint, the distinction between employee and independent contractor is an important one. A company is liable for the actions of an employee under respondeat superior, regardless of the insurance company’s liability limits. So if an Uber employee driver hits and kills someone, the company must pay the full value of the wrongful death claim. Other states may soon follow California’s lead and begin designating Uber drivers as employees. This will require individual victims to step forward, demanding fair compensation for their injuries, and seeking the legal help they need to hold these companies accountable.
What you can do
Even forcing ridesharing companies to pay for even minor injuries can be a challenge. Like all companies, Uber and Lyft exist to make money. Their insurance companies operate with the same motive and will attempt to settle any claim presented for as little as possible. If you or a loved one is injured in an accident involving a ridesharing service, it’s always a good idea to consult with an attorney you can trust before even speaking to anyone from the insurance company.
By: David Law