In-Depth: Who is Liable in an Uber or Lyft Crash?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Uber and/or Lyft. These popular ride-hailing mobile apps which allow users to enter a pick-up and drop-off destination and virtually request a car ride. Last summer, Uber completed its two-billionth trip. That’s a lot of Uber rides. While Lyft has not gained as much popularity as Uber, it still is surging in use. This blog will explore: In-Depth: Who is Liable in an Uber or Lyft Crash?
As our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green know, that means that many of the cars on our roads are performing Uber or Lyft-ordered drives. In particular, we know that both ride-ordering apps have significant presences in the South Florida region, including in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
So, with so many app-ordered transports taking place every day, a question arises: who is responsible for the damages in a car accident involving an Uber or Lyft driver?
To explore this issue, our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers will delve into three separate but relevant issues. First, we will discuss the inquiry into when a driver is actually considered to be driving for Uber or Lyft. Next, we will examine the legal theory of respondeat superior. Last, we will discuss how the individual companies (Uber and Lyft) go about providing insurance for their drivers.
Issue 1: When are the drivers actually “Uber” or “Lyft” drivers?
First, it’s important to identify when a person is actually an Uber or a Lyft driver. That classification is not triggered when the person is approved to drive for either company. Because of how Uber and Lyft work, people can choose to drive at their preferred times. For instance, let’s say Ben decided to drive for Uber only from 1 PM to 3 PM on a Friday. Before and after that time frame, he is logged out of the app. Clearly, then, if he gets into an accident with somebody at 9 AM while on his way to the gym, Uber or Lyft (whoever he is driving for) bear no responsibility.
However, let’s say Ben logs into the Uber app at 1:00 PM, but has not yet picked-up a ride; he is still waiting to be hailed. If Ben is just driving around, logged in, and gets into a car accident, this is probably a gray area. It is unclear whether in this case Ben was actively an Uber driver. While on the one hand he was logged-in to the app and available to be hailed, as our personal injury lawyers know, he is not actually performing an Uber drive at the time that he got into the accident.
Next, let’s look at the more obvious scenario. Ben logs in at 1 PM and is immediately hailed. After picking up a rider, while driving the rider to his destination, Ben rear-ends another car. In this situation, Ben is in the act of driving for Uber, as he is logged-in and performing a transportation ride ordered through the Uber app.
So, if while Ben is considered an “Uber driver,” he gets into an accident in which he is negligent, from whom can the victim seek compensation? For answers to that question, we turn to Issues 2 and 3.
Issue 2: Respondeat superior
“Respondeat superior” is Latin for “let the master answer.” It is also the legal doctrine that a party is responsible for acts of his or her agents. In practical terms, it means that an employer is liable for harms and damages caused by acts of an employee while in the course of his or her work for the employer. A premise relied upon here is that the “agent” is an “employee.”
That premise is not always true, as our personal injury lawyers know. Often, people who work for others are “independent contractors” instead of “employees.” The key distinction that courts use in separating independent contractors from employees is the degree of control exerted by the employer over the employee.
Because of the theory of respondeat superior, it should be no surprise that both Uber and Lyft claim that those who drive for them are independent contractors. A Florida court of appeals recently confirmed that Uber drivers are independent contractors.
So making the claim that Uber or Lyft can be liable for a car crash involving one of their drivers under the argument of respondeat superior is a difficult one to make. This is the reality, as our personal injury lawyers know, even though both Uber and Lyft exert significant control over how the drivers perform their work (in particular, they provide the routes to drive!).
Issue 3: Insurance coverage
Even though it would be hard to hold Uber or Lyft responsible under a theory of respondeat superior because of the case law allowing the “independent contractor” classification to persist, there is another way to hold the companies responsible: through the insurance they provide. Both Uber and Lyft provide insurance coverage for their drivers, as our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers understand.
First, let’s discuss what Uber claims to provide. According to Uber’s website section dedicated to insurance, Uber (unsurprisingly) offers no coverage for drivers when they are “offline” and offers insurance for when drivers are between rides and when a rider is on an Uber-ordered trip.
For between-ride coverage, Uber provides drivers with a 3rd-party policy that offers bodily injury insurance of up to $50,000 per individual per accident, with a total of $100,000 per accident and up to $25,000 for property damage. For on-trip coverage, drivers are covered by Uber’s $1 million insurance policy, which covers “each and every incident that occurs between accepting a trip and reaching the rider’s destination.”
Now let’s turn to Lyft’s insurance offerings. While the Lyft website is a bit less specific, the company does state that it offers a policy with four types of coverage which are in effect from the time a driver accepts a ride until the time that the “ride has ended in the app.” The four components of the coverage are 1) contingent liability (for drivers while in driver mode waiting for a ride request), 2) primary auto liability, 3) contingent comprehensive & collision, and 4) uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance.
After exhausting the insurance policies provided by the companies, a victim’s next-best course of action would likely be to go after the insurance policy of the driver him or herself. But because every case is different, we highly recommend that you contact an experienced personal injury lawyer such as one of ours at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green if you happen to be injured in an auto accident.