Getting around the city has never been more convenient than before, thanks to ridesharing. With a few taps of the app, anyone can ask for a ride—be it someone’s personal car or a bright yellow cab—especially during peak hours. With such convenience at one’s fingertips, it’s not surprising that ridesharing is a multibillion-dollar global market.
For all the ease and comfort it provides, ridesharing still needs a human behind the wheel. Any ridesharing driver is as vulnerable to a car accident as any other motorist plying the roads, if not more. In over half of mishaps that involve ridesharing vehicles, the victims are the passengers, other motorists, or pedestrians.
Whether you’re riding or have been hit by one in an accident, you’re eligible for compensation from the erring service. A car accident lawyer that has experience in ridesharing accidents can assist in building your case to secure the compensation you deserve. These cases can be more complicated than your standard car accident cases.
The ridesharing population
Before delving deep into the legal intricacies of ridesharing accidents, it pays to learn how big the industry is. Demand for such services has more than doubled between 2015 and 2018. Over the same period, the number of people who haven’t heard of them has drastically dropped.
The most common users are households earning $75,000 or more a year, accounting for 46% of all households in the U.S, and college graduates or higher degrees. Not surprisingly, more users reside in urban centers than in the countryside.
Ridesharing is in high demand for plenty of reasons that benefit both driver and passenger alike. By turning personal cars into viable rides for others:
- It reduces the need for people to own vehicles, thereby reducing the number of cars on the road. This means less traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.
- It gives people with mobility problems or those who can’t drive due to circumstances another option to get around the city or from city to city.
- It becomes a cost-effective option for individuals who travel less than 10,000 miles a year. They also save on insurance, fuel and parking costs.
- For drivers, it’s a viable source of additional income, enough to justify owning a vehicle.
While several ridesharing services exist, Uber and Lyft are the most prominent ones. Uber is the dominant service, accounting for 68% of national demand; on the other hand, Lyft caters to the remaining 32%. Surprisingly, only one in 10 customers use both services.
Despite ridesharing’s numerous benefits, one study found that the number of fatalities in road mishaps began to increase when it became widespread. Citing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the study discovered that the downward trend of car accident fatalities since the mid-1980s suddenly reversed starting in 2015.
For comparison, the NHTSA logged in 32,885 people killed from motor vehicle accidents in 2010, the lowest since 1949. However, the figure bumped up to 35,485 in 2015 and 37,481 in 2016. The study estimated an increase in fatalities of between 2% and 4%.
The pandemic has barely prevented these figures from growing. In 2020, the NHTSA reported an estimated 36,860 fatalities, which had been the highest since 2007. Keep in mind that Americans had taken out their cars less that year due to lockdowns and quarantine measures.
Even though ridesharing is supposed to reduce vehicular volume, the opposite happened. The study reported a 3% increase in new vehicle registrations. A separate earlier study recorded an average growth of 0.7% in urban areas.
Given these circumstances, ridesharing services take it upon themselves to mitigate the risk of injury or death while their drivers hit the roads. One way is to ensure the competency of their drivers and the safety of their vehicles.
For example, Uber requires driver applicants to:
- Have at least one year of driving experience or three years if below 23 years of age
- Own a four-door car that isn’t more than 15 years old and cannot be titled as salvaged or rebuilt
- Have no recorded or pending criminal charges against them
Even with these screening mechanisms in place, human drivers are still prone to poor decision-making on the road – especially if the driver is at the end of a long shift. If those decisions result in injury or death, whether passenger or pedestrian, the ridesharing service is obligated to pay for the damages.
Ridesharing insurance coverage
Both Uber and Lyft have car accident insurance in place for their drivers. However, they base the coverage on whether or not the app was active when the accident occurred. Naturally, if the app is off during that time, the driver’s personal car insurance provides the coverage.
When the app is on, coverage depends on which of the following tiers is applicable.
The driver has opened the app but has yet to accept a ride request. The provided coverage is $50,000 in bodily injury per person, $100,000 in bodily injury per accident, and $25,000 in property damage per accident.
The driver has accepted a ride request and is on their way to pick up the passenger. The provided coverage includes $1,000,000 third-party liability, uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury, and contingent comprehensive and collision. For the third item, the deductible is $1,000 for Uber and $2,500 for Lyft.
The driver has picked up the passenger and is en-route to the specified destination. The coverage is similar to Period 2.
Implementation of these tiers can vary by state. For instance, state laws can require ridesharing companies to maintain coverage for Periods 2 and 3, while drivers can do so for Period 1. They can also require the companies themselves to limit the coverage drivers provide in Period 1 and shoulder the excess while maintaining coverage for Periods 2 and 3.
As adequate as these amounts may seem, there have been incidents where ridesharing accident victims don’t receive proper compensation. One case in New York City had a victim left with a mangled ankle receiving only chump change from the erring Uber driver. State law required ridesharing drivers to carry at least $75,000 in liability insurance and $1.25 million when accepting trips or running fares. But in the victim’s case, the accident occurred within New York City limits, where drivers are only required to carry $100,000 regardless of injury severity. Local lawyers have called this arrangement nothing short of unfair.
The coverage is barely enough as far as overall costs go. A 2019 report by the National Safety Council estimated the average cost of a disabling injury at $98,400 in lost productivity and medical expenses and over USD$1.2 million in costs to reduce their risk of further accidents. Accidents resulting in fatalities can increase these figures by more than tenfold.
Sue the company directly
If you find yourself in a similar predicament, it’s easy to think that the best possible course of action would be to sue the service for negligence directly. While not impossible to do, victims are usually at a considerable disadvantage for several reasons, starting with how the service is structured.
For one, Uber and Lyft aren’t ‘taxi companies’ but ‘data and software companies,’ while their drivers aren’t employees but independent contractors. As such, they wouldn’t be subject to any regulations as taxi companies. On top of that, the drivers don’t technically work for them, and their vehicles aren’t maintained by them.
This branding/employment relationship was at the center of a dispute between Uber and the European Union (EU) in 2017. The company argued that its business model centers around the app that connects drivers and riders. Three years later, the EU Court of Justice ruled in favor of Uber, allowing them to operate in EU member-states without being regulated like a taxi company.
The services harnessed these clauses to the fullest in Florida, specifically with Florida statute 627.748. As it went into effect in 2017, the statute imposed new rules for ridesharing coverage. Section 7 stipulates that the limit for uninsured motorist coverage shouldn’t go lower than the insured’s bodily injury liability (also cited under Florida statute 627.727).
Uber and Lyft rejected this arrangement three years after the statute went into effect, which they could do, albeit in specific ways. Drivers and passengers were none the wiser. This arbitration setup also permits the companies to provide their own arbitrators (both sides still have to agree) to decide the disputes out of court.
Complicating matters is the nature of ridesharing accident litigation. Unlike a typical car accident litigation, these cases often involve many parties, from the ridesharing service to insurers. Some of these may attract media attention, adding to the pressure.
A successful formula
If you’ve been in a wreck with an Uber or Lyft driver, treat the initial claim as you would a normal car accident.
Here’s a step-by-step rundown:
Call 911 immediately
In any mishap, safety takes top priority. If you can still move your arms and hands after the accident, call for help immediately (if not, ask someone nearby to do so). There are several reasons for doing this.
Get the medical treatment you need. Waiting to go to the doctor with the hope you might recover a few weeks later doesn’t help your case. Getting the medical treatment you need immediately is your priority.
Second, the medical records from the doctors is helpful to build your case. In addition, by turning down aid from paramedics or other medical personnel, you’re essentially brushing off the injuries you sustained. The insurance company will either claim you weren’t hurt, or you weren’t hurt “that bad” when in reality, you’re just trying to tough it out.
Third, the incident report filed by police can get the insurance company to evaluate your claim sooner. Cooperating with the investigation helps more your claim along.
Avoid quick settlements
As mentioned earlier, there have been stories of victims of ridesharing accidents getting far less than what they deserve. You may be tempted to accept whatever coverage Uber or Lyft provides, but there’s no asking for seconds once you seal the deal. Insurance companies prefer to settle for cheap, even if the victim is still treating – and accruing more medical bills. After a settlement, the insurance company will not pay anything else.
Total compensation doesn’t just include the financial loss that you’ve already experienced but also potential loss in the future. You spent thousands to treat your injuries, but the days lost at work from making a full recovery will add to your cost. If you think accepting the quick settlement can’t be helped, consult with a lawyer to know your options first.
Avoid posting on social media
Many lawyers advise against posting details of the accident on social media, especially while it’s still under investigation by authorities. The defendant will use anything you write or post against you, especially if it contains questionable information. Setting such a post as private won’t do you any good, as courts argue it can still be used as public records. The safest thing to do is to stay away from social media until the case has been ultimately settled.
Seek legal help
Ridesharing accident cases are unlike your typical car accident case. With so many factors and parties involved, it’s easy to get lost in the legalese and lose out on potential compensation. It’s important to seek help from a car accident lawyer focusing on such incidents.