What happens when an Uber, Lyft, or other ridesharing vehicle is involved in an accident? Who is responsible for injuries sustained and damage to either the Uber vehicle, or another vehicle involved in the accident? How can we determine whether responsibility lies with the individual driver, or with the operating company?
Similar to taxis, ridesharing allows individuals to enlist a vehicle to take them from one destination to another for a fee. Uber and Lyft both allow a customer to download the appropriate Uber application or Lyft application on to their cell phone. When a ride is needed the customer types in a specific address, Uber or Lyft uses their computer software to determine the closest available driver and sends them a signal to accept a ride to pick up a passenger.
HOW RIDESHARE CHARGES WORK
A specific charge is then made to the ridesharing passenger on a credit card and the Uber driver is given monetary compensation for transporting the passenger. Uber (or whatever rideshare platform is used) makes a profit on each and every transported passenger. Uber’s website at Uber.com informs the customer that their smartphone apps connect “driver-partners” and riders. The rider app allows the rider to request a ride and then a nearby “driver-partner” accepts the customer’s request. The app then displays an estimated time of arrival for the “driver-partner.” The app next tracks the “driver-partner” to give an appropriate estimated time of arrival to the pickup location. It notifies the customer when the “driver-partner” is about to arrive. The app gives the customer information about the “driver-partner” including the first name, vehicle type and license plate number. When the customer arrives at the chosen destination and the trip ends, Uber automatically calculates and charges payment to an Uber account through the customer’s preselected credit or debit card. Uber then asks the customer to rate the driver from 1 to 5 stars and “driver-partners” are also asked to rate riders. Uber’s website states, “Uber’s feedback system is designed to foster a community of respect and accountability for everyone.”
DOES UBER ACTUALLY PROTECT ITS USERS?
Uber’s website as of July 8, 2018 discussed how their technology is supposed to protect riders, stating, “Uber is dedicated to keeping people safe on the road. Our technology enables us to focus on rider safety for, during, and after every trip.”
In an attempt to avoid legal responsibility and liability for the negligent actions of the Uber driver, the company’s attorneys have created an independent contractor relationship. What does this actually mean in the case of a traffic accident with an Uber vehicle? Many states, including Kansas, allow an injured passenger or motorist in another car that has been injured by an Uber driver to bring claims directly against the Uber driver. In many cases, a case could also be made against Uber or Lyft.
REASONS A RIDESHARE DRIVER COULD BE RESPONSIBLE
The main reasons that an Uber or Lyft driver could be responsible for a traffic accident are in the case of negligent, reckless, or wanton operation of the Uber or Lyft vehicle. These can include many different scenarios and could be far-reaching. The Uber or Lyft driver could be negligent and/or reckless for any of the following:
- Inattentive operation of a motor vehicle;
- Failure to use reasonable and ordinary care;
- Failure to keep a proper lookout:
- Speeding above the posted speed limit or speeding in excess of what the then existing conditions demand the speed be reduced to;
- Following too closely;
- Failure to maintain the vehicle in an appropriate lane of travel:
- Failure to use a turn signal on making a left turn;
- Operation of a motor vehicle while using a cell phone, texting, looking at a map in failing to keep their eyes on the road;
REASONS THE RIDESHARE OPERATING COMPANY COULD BE RESPONSIBLE
When Uber or Lyft are independently responsible from negligent actions by failing to use appropriate safety training, there can be many additional independent claims against them for their own independent and distinct actions and omissions of negligence.
In Marquis v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 265 Kan. 317, 265 Kan. at Syl. 6, 7, 8 and 9; 961 P.2d 1213 (1998), the Kansas Supreme Court discussed these distinctions holding:
“Under Kansas law, the theory of liability asserted, rather than the underlying cause of the accident, governs coverage. Theories of negligent supervision or control and negligent hiring or negligent retention of employees are separate and distinct from theories of liability of negligent entrustment. Negligent supervision includes not only the failure to supervise but also includes the failure to control personswith whom the Defendant has a special relationship, including the Defendant's employees or persons with dangerous propensities. Under Kansas law, an admission that an employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the employee negligently caused injuries to another does not preclude an action for both respondeat superior and negligent entrustment or negligent hiring, retention, or supervision.”
IS UBER RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS DRIVERS?
An employer has an obligation to use reasonable care in hiring, selecting, training and supervising their employees. They have a duty to hire safe and competent employees which includes the duty to control persons in their employment.If the Defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the employee presented a risk of harm to others and failed to appropriately train and supervise the employee then this duty is violated. Patterson v. Dahlston, 130 F. Supp.2d 1228 (D.Kan. 2000); Marquis v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 265 Kan. 317, 265 Kan. at Syl. 7, 8; 961 P.2d 1213; Smith v. Printup, 254 Kan. 315, 866 P.2d 985; Nero v. Kansas State University, 253 Kan. 567, 861 P.2d 768 (1993); C.J.W. v. State, 253 Kan. 1, 853 P.2d 4 (1993); Anspach v. Tomkins Industries, Inc., 817 F. Supp. 1499, 1519-20 (D.Kan.1993); Kansas State Bank & Tr. Co. v. Specialized Transportation Services, Inc., 249 Kan. 348, 819 P.2d 587 (1991); Glover v. TransCor America, Inc. 57 F.Supp.2d 1240, 1245 (1999).
In essence, the exercise of control over the Uber drivers provides a basis for arguing that the driver’s actions are the actions of Uber. As a general rule, when a person (a contractee) lets out work to another and reserves no control over the work or workmen, the relation of contractee and independent contractor exists, and not that of master and servant, and the contractee is not liable for the negligence or improper execution of the work by the independent contractor. An exception to the general rule is the inherently dangerous activity doctrine, which provides that one who employs an independent contractor to do work involving a special danger to others which the employer knows or has reason to know to be inherent in or normal to the work, or which he contemplates or has reason to contemplate when making the contract, is subject to liability for physical harm caused to such others by the contractor's failure to take reasonable precautions against such dangers. Falls v. Scott, 249 Kan. 54, 55, 815 P.2d 1104, 1107 (Kan. 1991)
CATEGORIES OF POTENTIAL LAWSUITS AGAINST RIDESHARE COMPANIES
Attorneys and lawyers who studied the accidents caused by Uber drivers understand that there are several categories of potential lawsuits against Uber or Lyft.
Category 1. When you are injured while driving in your own vehicle or are a passenger in another vehicle that is hit by an Uber driver and the Uber driver is at fault for the accident you may likely have a case against the driver working for Uber and an independent cause of action against Uber.
Category 2. Pedestrians who are hit by an Uber driver who is driving in the course and scope of employment and under the control of Uber at the time of the accident and are injured likely have a case against the Uber driver and Uber.
Category 3. Passengers who are injured while riding as a customer in an Uber vehicle during an accident that is at least partially caused by the Uber driver will likely have a case against the Uber driver, against Uber and if the other car is partially at fault, against that other driver.
Category 4. Uber drivers who are involved in accident where the other driver is at fault likely have a case against the other driver and may have an underinsured motorist case against the insurance carrier that insures all Uber drivers.
INCREASING SAFETY FOR RIDESHARERES
Uber and Lyft provide millions of rides for monetary fees. Lawyers across the United States are seeing increasing number of Uber and Lyft accidents. At Brad Pistotnik Law we believe that this rising number of accidents has many factors. Normal fleet vehicle businesses provide actual classroom teaching and/or online teaching of safety principles that are taught by the Smith system and the National Council for Safety as well as dozens of other companies and entities that provide safety teaching principles to drivers. Safe businesses use comprehensive written testing in order to determine if the drivers understand accidents awareness principles, hazard recognition principles and defensive driving skills.
COVERAGE MAY CHANGE THROUGHOUT THE RIDE'S PROGRESS
Our Uber accident attorneys and Uber accident lawyers help people involved in accidents that are related to Uber and Lyft drivers. Uber drivers normally have at least state minimum mandated insurance coverage. In some states, the minimum coverage is $25,000 per person and $25,000 per accident. Once an Uber or Lyft driver has been engaged by Uber or Lyft to pick up a ride and the driver has accepted that ride then Uber’s proprietary software and Lyft’s proprietary software begins to inform the potential passenger of information about the driver. It discloses the driver’s name and how long it will take them to arrive. Once the driver is under the control Uber or Lyft and has accepted the task of picking up a passenger and transporting them, they are now in the course and scope of employment for Uber or Lyft.
Once the driver has accepted the assigned task from Uber, a different type of motor vehicle insurance kicks in. This usually means that the coverage goes from state minimum limits of coverage up to a one million dollar policy of insurance. Most state laws have minimum amounts of required auto insurance. Some, but not all states, require mandatory uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage for when you are injured in a motor vehicle accident. When the other driver is uninsured or has minimal limits and you are severely injured you may likely have a claim for uninsured motorist benefits and/or underinsured motorist limits.
When certain events occur and you are injured from an Uber driver, you may be able to get additional compensation. If you are riding with an Uber driver or Lyft driver who has partial fault and another driver is also at fault you may have a claim against the Uber driver, a claim against Uber, a claim against the other driver and their insurance, and if the other driver has minimum limits of coverage, then you may be able to make a claim for uninsured motorist coverage (UM) or underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) coverage up to $1 million.
THREE SITUATIONS THAT CHANGE COVERAGE
There are three separate driving events that change the amount of coverage for the Uber driver. In the first event the Uber driver is driving his/her car on their own and is not yet actually performing a task for Uber. If you are injured by the Uber driver in this circumstance you will normally not have the company insurance available and may be bringing a claim for your injuries, but you may have the driver’s smaller level of insurance to obtain which can be very low. The insurance coverage may be much less than the higher corporate insurance in this circumstance.
The second circumstance is where a ridesharing passenger has contacted Uber and the driver-partner is in route to pick up the passenger. In this circumstance, corporate insurance for Uber and the driver should kick in and would normally have the higher level of one million dollars of liability coverage compared to the driver’s normal lower coverage of state mandatory insurance limits of $25,000.00 per person and $50,000.00 per accident. If you can prove they are actually in route to pick up a ridesharing passenger and you are driving your vehicle and hit by the Uber driver and the Uber driver is at fault, this will help you get a much higher level of compensation for your injuries.
The third circumstance is where the ridesharing passenger is in the Uber driver’s car and an accident occurs. This is the best circumstance for an injured person who is an Uber passenger being transported. If the driver was transporting you, the higher insurance limits should apply. You can have a higher level of coverage regardless of whether the Uber driver is at fault or the other driver who hit an Uber driver is at fault, because the insurance on the Uber vehicle will usually provide one million dollars of coverage for the Uber driver’s negligence. If the other driver is at fault and has lower limits of liability coverage and you are hurt badly, then you can obtain uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage from the insurance policy on the Uber vehicle that is transporting you. Of course, this all depends on how your state interprets insurance coverage in a comparative fault situation and where two drivers are at fault.
ARE YOU ENTITLED TO COMPENSATION FROM UBER OR LYFT?
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