Know what to do after an Uber accident. We’ll examine some basic legal considerations for rideshare drivers and passengers.
In 2011, Uber changed San Francisco public transportation with its ride-hailing service. The Uber app made hiring your own driver affordable, fast, and convenient.
It was a good alternative to hailing a taxi, and Uber’s business spread all over the United States. Similar ride request companies, like Lyft, soon released their own ride-hailing apps.
Rideshare apps are now a widespread and popular way to travel in all 50 states. While they have made life easier, these apps also present unique legal issues. If you’re in an Uber or Lyft vehicle that gets into an accident, who is responsible for your injuries? What role does the ridesharing company have, versus your driver or another driver?
Many use Uber or Lyft to get income by using their own vehicle to give rides. Those drivers need to know how the law affects them, what kind of insurance is necessary, and what the risks are in their respective states.
This article will examine some basic legal considerations for both Uber and Lyft drivers and passengers.
Why Uber Accidents Are Different
You might think that auto accident injuries are pretty much the same regardless of who was driving at the time of the accident. While that may be true from a medical perspective, legally speaking it’s a very different situation.
When you’re injured while driving your own car, the at-fault motorist’s insurance policy covers medical care and expenses.
In an Uber accident or Lyft accident, however, another party might have responsibility: the rideshare company. The presence of a third party can change the legal outcome of the case.
If Uber or Lyft carelessly selected a driver with a terrible driving record, for example, they could be responsible if that driver’s poor skills get you hurt. Even though drivers are not employees in most states, rideshare companies still have a duty to offer safe services. This usually includes driver background checks.
In most cities and states, vehicles used for Uber rides must pass safety inspections. (Lyft has similar inspection rules.) If those inspections don’t happen, or a vehicle improperly passes an inspection, problems can result. If the car then gets into an accident, there may be a separate legal claim against the rideshare company.
Another emerging area of concern is the advancement of self-driving car technology. In 2018, one of Uber’s “autonomous” vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.
There was an Uber “safety driver” in the vehicle who, distracted by her cell phone, failed to stop the car before it hit a woman crossing the street. This case presented a unique liability situation for both the driver and for Uber.
An Uber or Lyft accident thus needs more attention than most car accidents. Safety inspections can affect legal responsibility before an accident even happens. Once it does, the parties’ responsibility may not be as clear-cut as in a normal car crash.
If You’re a Passenger: Who’s Responsible?
If you’re a rideshare passenger injured in an auto accident, there are many people who may be responsible for the accident. There are also more ways to pay your medical bills and other expenses associated with your bodily injury.
As with a non-rideshare accident, who caused the accident is a key fact. Let’s say that you hail a car with the Uber app. While the Uber driver is going through an intersection, another car runs a red light and T-bones the Uber car.
In this situation, neither your driver nor Uber is responsible for your injuries. You’d need to proceed against the responsible motorist and their insurance company.
First, make sure that you take the necessary steps to establish that the other driver was at fault and get the best evidence for your claim. Talk to bystanders, collect insurance information, and get a police report. Also seek medical attention immediately.
But what if we change the example so that your Uber driver was the one who ran the red light at the time of the accident?
In that case, there are many insurance policies to deal with. First, the Uber driver will most likely have their own personal auto insurance policy. You need to make a claim against this policy to recover your medical expenses and other costs related to the auto accident.
There is also an Uber insurance policy that covers rideshare drivers. Lyft has rideshare insurance as well. These policies pay after a driver’s insurance policy is exhausted, but this may vary based on your state and specific situation.
In every case, you must establish all relevant facts. Then, notify all relevant insurance carriers as soon as possible.
If You’re a Driver: Make Sure You’re Protected
Drivers for Uber or Lyft should be careful about their own responsibility in the event of a car crash.
First, you should know your legal status with the company. Second, understand and follow all local rules to stay on good terms with the law and the company.
Are You Considered an Independent Contractor or an Employee?
First, keep in mind that you probably are not an employee of your rideshare company. In most states, rideshare drivers are treated as independent contractors.
There are many technical differences between independent contractors and employees. The gist is that independent contractors are controlled less directly by a company and have more freedom. Therefore, a company is less responsible for the independent contractor’s actions. Employees are also entitled to more benefits than independent contractors.
In California, recent legislation forces rideshare companies to reconsider their business model. The state wants to classify Uber drivers and other independent contractors as employees. California courts have sided with the state on this point.
Your classification under state law is important in an accident. A business is generally responsible for the acts of its employees from the moment they begin work until the moment they leave. An independent contractor’s agency is much more piecemeal and thus questionable. Generally, you will have less personal exposure if you are considered an employee.
Even as an independent contractor, you do have the protection of a rideshare company’s insurance policy. The Uber insurance policy, for example, covers you from the moment you start waiting for a ride request. They will pay for damages from an accident that exceed your own policy limits or for damages not insured by your policy.
Follow Company Policies
While rideshare companies have insurance coverage for most accidents that take place during (but not between) fares, they insist you follow their rules. In particular, there are rules about accidents and reporting which govern access to company benefits.
If an accident takes place during an Uber trip, for example, Uber needs you to report the accident in their app. Lyft has a collision team available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Lyft also has a safety team to whom you should report less immediate safety concerns.
If you don’t inform your rideshare company about an accident in a timely manner, you’re taking a risk. The company may not cooperate. You could lose insurance coverage. You may even be in violation of your contract. It’s therefore important to keep your company informed.
Know and Follow All Local Laws
It’s always critical to know the rules of the road in your state and city. Despite the fact that Uber and Lyft are national companies, they don’t know local traffic laws and regulations in all areas they serve. If you make a mistake and end up getting in an accident while doing something illegal, you could bear the cost.
For example, if your city does not allow drivers to pick up Uber passengers at the airport, and you get into an accident while doing so, you might be in trouble. Your rideshare company may argue that you violated the law and your agreement. They might say that their insurance does not apply. Your illegal action has then put you and your assets at risk.
Use Rideshare Services Carefully
Rideshare services are popular methods of transportation and are not going anywhere. The differences between rideshares and more traditional methods of transportation can be convenient. But there may be serious legal consequences of those differences. Whether you are a driver or a passenger, you must know the risk before you step in the car.
If you have been in an Uber or Lyft accident and suffered an injury, you should contact a qualified car accident lawyer for a free consultation.
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