As more people use ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, more drivers affiliated with those services are involved in accidents. That causes accident victims to wonder whether they can sue Uber or Lyft for the accidents that their drivers cause.
The victims of Uber and Lyft accidents might be:
- the driver’s passenger who paid for the Uber or Lyft ride, or
- the driver or passenger of a vehicle involved in a collision with an Uber or Lyft driver.
Either way, if the Uber or Lyft driver was negligent and if the negligence caused the accident, the injury victim is entitled to compensation.
Whether that compensation will come from the rideshare company or from the driver can be a complicated question. The answer depends on the circumstances, and the answer may be different in different states.
Fortunately, under most circumstances, it doesn’t matter. Accident victims can always sue the driver responsible for the accident, and if the driver is affiliated with Uber or Lyft, insurance coverage in Pennsylvania should not usually be an issue.
Let’s take Uber as an example. If Uber drivers were employees of Uber, there would be no question that an accident victim could sue Uber for injuries caused by the Uber driver. That’s because employers are held responsible for the negligent conduct of their employees that occurs while the employees are engaged in the employer’s business.
The answer is trickier, however, because Uber insists that its drivers are independent contractors, not employees. Whether Uber is right about that characterization of its employees has been challenged in several states. Some of those challenges are pending while Uber has settled others.
Independent contractors essentially work for themselves. Since they are not employees of Uber, the general rule that employers are responsible for the negligent acts of employees while carrying out the employer’s business duties may not apply to Uber drivers.
There are exceptions to that rule, but they hinge on rules of law that are often difficult to apply. Fortunately, in most cases it isn’t necessary to decide whether Uber can be held directly responsible for a driver’s negligence.
Most drivers have liability insurance that protects them when they cause a car accident. However, most personal liability policies exclude commercial driving. Since Uber and Lyft drivers are making money by transporting passengers, their driving is classified as commercial. That means their personal liability insurance probably won’t pay claims for accidents caused while they are transporting paid passengers.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania enacted a law in 2016 that requires rideshare drivers to maintain “rideshare insurance” that covers passengers and other victims of the driver’s negligence while the driver is working. The law requires liability limits of at least $500,000 while the driver is transporting or picking up a passenger. If the driver is logged onto the rideshare app and is available for rideshare requests but has not agreed to pick up a passenger, the limit is $50,000 per injury victim or $100,000 per accident.
The new law requires the rideshare company to assure that the driver has the required insurance in place before it allows that driver to accept passengers arranged by the company. It may therefore be possible to sue the company if a driver does not have the required insurance.
The “rideshare insurance” must be the primary insurance to cover claims that arise while the driver is working. That means the driver can’t submit the claim first under a personal insurance policy and then submit it to the rideshare insurance company only after the claim is denied.
Suing the Rideshare Company
While $500,000 is adequate coverage for most injuries, a catastrophic injury may require more coverage. In those cases, a personal injury lawyer might explore making a claim against the rideshare company. The claim may be premised on the assertion that the driver is an employee, not an independent contractor, or on other legal theories.
For example, successful claims have been brought against Uber and other companies for failing to screen their drivers. Passengers who have been sexually assaulted by drivers who have criminal records have obtained compensation from Uber because of Uber’s failure to determine that the driver posed a risk to passengers. The failure to screen drivers for their ability to drive safely may also be a basis for suing rideshare companies directly.
Fortunately, most Pennsylvania injury victims will be able to recover compensation from the driver under Pennsylvania’s new mandatory insurance law. When problems arise, however, it is essential to have an experienced and resourceful lawyer who aggressively pursues other potential sources of injury compensation.