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Uber Under the Gun – Who Is Responsible in Ride Sharing Accidents? Be Careful Who Gives You a Lyft

All lawyers have certain protocols in which they follow for taxi cab accident cases. These accidents present a number of common issues that are pervasive throughout a typical car collision (i.e. liability, impact, causation and damages,) but these accidents also invoke concepts only afforded to commercial carriers (i.e. employee vs. independently contracted drivers, federal vs. state regulations, whether the driver acted within the course and scope of employment). Couple the aforementioned issues with the difficulties that attorneys often experience in identifying and corresponding with the insuring entity, service of process, party identification and availability, taxi accident cases present unique issues.

Most lawyers have, to some degree, obtained a certain level of comfort in taxi cab collision litigation. However, to quote Bob Dylan, “[t]he times they are a-changin.” Now personal injury attorneys are faced with a new breed of 21st century transportation, ridesharing services. Ridesharing services, such as Lyft and Uber, can utilize a private, non-commercial driver to provide transportation services to users. Ridesharing companies conduct background checks and driver’s license validation on their prospective drivers. The driver is summoned by passengers utilizing a mobile application (“app”) expressing their desire to be driven to a fixed destination. A nearby driver can elect to accept or decline the request. The app will also provide the passenger with details on the driver such as make and model of the vehicle and expected time of arrival.

As stated above, ridesharing accidents create their own set of complications. What are the roles and responsibilities of the ridesharing driver and/or a ride sharing service to a party injured in a car accident? What insurance coverage is availed to an innocent ridesharing passenger, third-party driver, or passenger injured due to the negligence of a ridesharing driver?

Although this issue has been heavily litigated, ridesharing drivers have been determined to be independent contractors in certain states. In those states, Uber, Lyft and the like are not employers, per se, as defined by the terms of their ride share user agreement. However, ridesharing services do afford insurance coverage to innocent passengers and third parties in the event of a car accident. Uber, for example breaks its coverage into three (3) timed components, Phases 1, 2, and 3. Phase 1 is the intermittent period between passengers. It will typically provide, in excess of the driver’s individual policy, coverage not to exceed $50,000.00 per person/$100,000 per incident. Phases 2 and 3 would cover the parties in route and upon arrival to their destination, up to $1 million in either liability or uninsured motorist benefits per accident. When a driver is “offline,” the automobile’s primary carrier will provide coverage and the ridesharing service will assume no liability.

As in any serious injury case, the amount of available insurance coverage can be critical. In a ridesharing service accident, the timing of the accident will be a key component in determining the available amount of compensation to an injured party for damages such as medical bills and lost wages. It is therefore important for a car accident attorney to determine which phase the ridesharing driver was in at the time of the subject collision. A skilled personal injury attorney can accomplish this in a number of ways, including initial witness interviews, electronic discovery, or party depositions.

Anti-spoliation techniques will also be critical to preserve all available evidence to effectively prosecute and recover for injured parties. Failure to do so may result in a loss of the greater available insurance coverage to properly compensate the injured parties. It is very important that anyone injured due to the negligence of either a ridesharing  service driver or while riding in a ridesharing vehicle contact an experienced personal injury attorney to properly protect their legal rights.