Over the past five years, privately-owned rideshare services like Uber and Lyft have become increasingly competitive with traditional taxicab companies, particularly in major urban centers like Philadelphia. While Lyft, Uber, and similar business models offer cheap and convenient transportation on demand, it’s important for consumers to understand some of the legal issues which can arise if an accident ever occurs. In this article, Philadelphia car accident attorney Brent Wieand will explain some of Uber’s key policies when it comes to insurance coverage, driver background checks, and responsibility for passenger injuries.
Can an Injured Passenger Sue Uber for a Car Accident?
Uber accidents are not like other automotive accidents because of the unique liability and insurance concerns which are involved. Unlike traditional cab companies, whose drivers are strictly regulated and classified as employees, Uber and similar businesses classify their employees as independent contractors, meaning they are treated like third parties.
Far from being merely a technical distinction, this worker classification is deliberately calculated to distance Uber from legal liability for reckless and negligent actions taken by its drivers. While businesses are generally considered liable for on-the-clock actions of employees, the same principle does not apply to independent contractors.
Section 5 of Uber’s Terms and Conditions, which was last updated April 2015, states the following:
“Uber shall not be liable for indirect, incidental, special, exemplary, punitive, or consequential damages, including lost profits, lost data, personal injury, or property damage related to, in connection with, or otherwise resulting from any use of the [company’s] services…”
In 2013, 6-year-old Sofia Liu tragically became a victim of wrongful death after being struck by 57-year-old driver Syed Muzaffar, an “Uber partner.” Liu’s mother and brother survived the accident, but were injured severely enough to require hospitalization. Uber denied coverage following Liu’s tragic death, arguing that Uber was not responsible because Muzaffar was not providing Uber transportation services at the time of the accident. In response to mounting pressures from an angered public, Uber subsequently began to provide insurance coverage for drivers in between fares, the limits of which are discussed in the next section of this article.
While Uber’s policies are unquestionably designed to minimize the risk of incurring liability, compensation may be recoverable, with skilled legal counsel, under certain circumstances. Earlier this year, the family of an anonymous 13-year-old plaintiff sued Uber, seeking $350,000 in punitive damages and $2 million in compensatory damages, after the plaintiff was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by 39-year-old driver Isagani Marin. The complaint alleges that Uber was negligent in hiring Marin, having failed to conduct a criminal background check (which would have turned up prior convictions of DUI and reckless driving).
On its website, Uber claims that “potential Uber driver-partners are required to undergo a screening process, which includes a driving and criminal history check that covers county, federal, and multi-state databases.” Negligent hiring may be a cause of action, or grounds for filing a lawsuit, if such hiring resulted in foreseeable harm to a passenger.
How Does Rideshare Insurance Coverage Work?
Uber drivers should be insured if they are on the clock, as Uber requires its drivers to carry personal insurance policies. As Engadget pointed out in a January 2015 article, “Many companies, including Allstate, Geico and State Farm, often flat-out refuse to cover ridesharing vehicles. [However] Uber does insure drivers between fares if private companies won’t pay…”
Unfortunately, as Engadget notes, Uber’s policies often prove insufficient to provide adequate coverage for injury-related expenses and losses after a crash or collision occurs, which may lead an injury victim to consider pursuing compensation through litigation. (See our previous article discussing coverage minimums and what happens if you get in a car accident without insurance for related information.) In an Uber press release issued February 2014, the company announced the following limits:
- $50,000/$100,000/$25,000 of “contingent coverage” in between fares. Uber introduced this coverage in response to Sofia Liu’s fatal accident in 2013. This policy takes its name from the fact that it is “contingent to a driver’s personal insurance policy, meaning it will only pay if the personal auto insurance completely declines or pays zero.”
- $1 million of uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) bodily injury coverage per accident (not per person). This policy provides coverage for Uber passengers who are injured when another driver causes a collision or other type of accident.
- $1 million of liability coverage per accident. Liability coverage is divided into bodily injury liability and property damage liability.
If you were injured in an Uber accident in Philadelphia or the surrounding counties, it may be possible to get compensation to help with your hospital bills, lost earnings, medical expenses, and other costs related to your accident. To start exploring your legal options in a free and completely private legal consultation, call personal injury lawyer Brent Wieand at (888) 789-3161. Brent has helped numerous residents throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey recover compensation for car accident injuries and property damage.
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice.***