Since Uber began in 2009, the ride-sharing industry has steadily gained in popularity. Just as Facebook has turned the word “friend’ into a verb, “Uber” is so common now that it has also become a verb, as in, “Let’s Uber to the party tonight.” More convenient and less expensive than taxis, Uber and Lyft (called Transportation Network Companies, or “TNCs”) are now seen everywhere, from the large cities to small towns. Just install an app on your phone, and when you are ready to go, use the app to locate the nearest available driver. Riders pay for the ride through the app, so no physical money has to change hands, arguably reducing the driver’s risk of being robbed. Uber and Lyft drivers are regular people who usually have other jobs. When a driver wants to earn some extra money, she signs into the system as available, and she will be matched with riders in her area. The TNC serves as a facilitator between the two parties, and processes payments. As the number of people using services like Uber and Lyft increases, it is inevitable that the number of accidents involving Uber and Lyft vehicles will also increase. If you are injured in an accident involving an Uber or Lyft vehicle, how might your rights be affected? How is an accident case involving an Uber driver different from an accident case involving a taxi or a regular passenger vehicle?
Taxi drivers are employees of the companies they drive for, and the vehicles are owned by the taxi companies. As employees, taxi drivers receive a salary, work regular shifts, and drive the routes assigned by their employers. They are eligible for workmen’s compensation if they are injured on the job, and they are covered by their employers’ liability insurance policy. When an employee of any company causes an accident while working, any accident claim involving a taxi will be made against the taxi company, and by extension, its insurance carrier.
Uber and Lyft drivers, by contrast, are considered to be independent contractors. They use their own vehicles, maintain their own insurance, and make their own schedules. They choose where to drive, and can sign out of the system when they choose. TNCs are very careful to advertise that their drivers are independent contractors, so as to avoid having to provide employee benefits and workmen’s compensation insurance.
Despite the efforts of TNCs to maintain the informal relationship between themselves and their drivers, legislators in many states have recognized the potential for growth in the ride-sharing business and the increased risk to the public that may result. The proliferation of Uber and Lyft drivers has led many states to create laws regulating the industry. Colorado, in fact, was the first state to regulate transportation network companies, in 2014.
Currently, Colorado law requires transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft to follow certain regulations.Transportation Network Companies must maintain their own liability insurance policies, covering their drivers’ actions from the time a ride is accepted on their app to the time the ride ends. If an Uber driver causes an accident on his way to pick up a rider, therefore, he is considered to be “on the clock” for purposes of liability.
The liability insurance carried by TNCs is not meant to be the primary source of coverage for damages if a driver causes an accident, however. The driver should have his own insurance, but if the driver is uninsured, or underinsured, an action against the company’s insurance carrier may be possible.Colorado’s Transportation Network Company law also requires TNCs to inspect their drivers’ vehicles and to conduct background checks on prospective drivers. These requirements raise some questions: In an accident caused by faulty equipment, the driver may not be guilty of negligence.
May an action be brought against the TNC if it failed to properly inspect the vehicle as required? Suppose an Uber or Lyft driver causes an accident while intoxicated, or assaults a passenger? What responsibility, if any, will the TNC have for neglecting required background checks? A class action suit is currently pending against Uber on behalf of several women who were allegedly sexually assaulted or harassed by drivers. These issues will be decided over time as more cases come before the courts.
Current regulations cover Uber and Lyft vehicles driven by their networks of part-time drivers. What happens when there is no driver? Recently, a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian during a road test in Arizona. Both the vehicle’s object-recognition system and the human safety driver failed to notice the pedestrian crossing in front of the car. Road tests in Arizona have been temporarily suspended, but will no doubt resume eventually.
There will come a time in which completely autonomous vehicles will pick up passengers and take them to their destinations, with no human drivers at all. The responsibility for accidents caused by autonomous vehicles may lie with the owner of the vehicle, the manufacturer, or perhaps even the person who programmed the vehicle’s object recognition software.
The experienced Colorado Springs car accident attorneys at Springs Law Group are dedicated to keeping up with the latest developments in accident law, including the regulations and case law covering Transportation Network Companies. If you have been injured in an accident with an Uber or Lyft vehicle, contact us for a free consultation. Understanding your rights is the first step toward getting full compensation for your injuries. Call us today at 719-421-7141.