Uber, Lyft, and other ride-share services are catching on throughout the country, and they’re working to revolutionize the way we pay for travel. But as with any new technology that takes the nation by storm, there are legal and regulatory issues that have yet to be figured out.
When it comes to liability, ride-share services are going through the same types of growing pains as other technology-based, item-sharing services like Airbnb. These services work by using technology to hook up people who need a service—like a ride or a place to stay—with people who have one to offer. In Uber’s case, ride-seekers can use the smartphone app to drop a pin showing his or her location. Potential drivers can then log into the app, pick up the passenger, and drop them off at their destination.
However, when you look at the liability issues and the fine print, things can get legally dicey. The people who offer services via apps like Uber and Airbnb are not employed by the company itself; rather, they are often treated as independent contractors. This presents a problem for lawmakers and authorities who seek to regulate this commercial activity because the company can say it is not responsible for the actions of its users.
If you suffer an injury while using a ride-share service, one of the biggest issues could be insurance. Official taxi services retain commercial insurance coverage to cover themselves in case of an accident, but these policies are not designed for ride-share services. Plus, it is highly unlikely that the ride-share driver’s personal auto insurance will cover injuries or damage sustained in an accident because, typically, a personal auto insurance policy will not cover rides given for commercial purposes.
Lawmakers throughout the country are working through these issues of liability, insurance, and new technology. Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation in September 2014 that implemented new insurance requirements for ride-sharing companies. This law requires ride-sharing companies’ insurance to cover drivers from the moment they turn on the app (not just from the moment they accept a ride).
“Drivers under the new law must maintain primary liability insurance coverage of at least $50,000 per person and $100,000 per occurrence for death and personal injury during the time they log on to the application, as well as $30,000 for property damage,” according to a Reuters report. “The insurance can be paid by the driver or the ride share company.”
Uber retains a $1 million insurance policy for driver liability in the case of an accident, and it conducts background checks for all “transportation partners” before they begin driving for Uber. The company also retains $1 million in coverage for uninsured/under-insured motorists, meaning that passengers and drivers are covered for injuries when the other party was at fault and does not have sufficient insurance coverage.
While these laws and insurance improvements are great news for users, it is important to note that there are plenty of gray areas when it comes to liability. As the technology and legal landscape continues to develop, ride-share companies will continue to try to avoid liability for accidents caused while using the service. If you are injured while using a ride-share service, contact a personal injury attorney right away to see if you have grounds for a lawsuit.