In the thriving new industry of ridesharing, companies like Uber and Lyft engage the services of drivers as independent contractors to provide rides to customers. Uber/Lyft drivers use their own vehicles and are not considered employees of the ridesharing companies, so traditional legal concepts of liability, such as "respondeat superior" -- which would apply to a situation where a company's employee causes an accident while driving the company's vehicle in the course of employment -- are not going to apply after a car accident caused by an Uber or Lyft driver. But that doesn't mean that Uber and Lyft won't be financially responsible when one of their drivers causes an accident. Read on to learn more.
Uber and Lyft Drivers are Independent Contractors
In most situations, companies are not legally responsible for the wrongful conduct of the independent contractors they've engaged, because unlike employees, independent contractors are not under the company's control.
With companies like Uber and Lyft, drivers are provided with the smartphone app that allows them to respond to ride requests by customers, but beyond this connection these companies exercise little control over their drivers' working hours or conditions.
As a result, you will have a difficult time trying to sue Uber or Lyft for car accident damages caused by one of their independent contractors, particularly in cases where the driver is not actively providing ridesharing services to a paying passenger at the time of your accident.
...But This is a New Area of Law
As the body of court decisions related to these kinds of cases develops and grows over time, it is possible that courts will begin to hold Uber and Lyft responsible for their drivers' negligence when they are in the process of transporting a paying passenger, because Uber and Lyft are receiving a direct financial benefit from the driver/passenger transaction. In contrast, courts are not as likely to hold Uber and Lyft responsible for a driver's negligence when the driver's app is not on and he or she is not engaged in company business at the time of the accident.
No "Company Cars"
The other main factor that insulates Uber and Lyft from liability is the fact that their drivers are not driving company-owned vehicles. Most states have what are called "Owner's Liability" laws that make the owner of a vehicle liable for the negligence of the vehicle's operator when the operator was driving the vehicle with the owner's consent. So, if you are injured in an accident caused by the negligence of a bus driver, you have legal recourse against the bus company because they own the bus. With Uber and Lyft, however, their drivers use their own vehicles and the rideshare companies have no owner's liability for their drivers' negligence.
Fortunately, if you're injured in an accident caused by an Uber or Lyft driver, whether as a rideshare customer or as a driver of your own vehicle, while it's unlikely that you'll be able to hold Uber/Lyft legally responsible for the accident, financial responsibility is another matter.
Uber/Lyft Drivers and Car Insurance
Uber and Lyft understand that from a business perspective they must provide some level of insurance to protect non-negligent third parties who would otherwise have a difficult time obtaining recovery from the drivers themselves. Both companies provide certain insurance protections for incidents involving their drivers, including liability coverage for accidents that occur when a driver has accepted a trip and/or is transporting a customer.
When the driver is logged into the app, but has not yet accepted a ride request, Uber/Lyft provides liability coverage to others who were injured or had their property damaged in an accident caused by the Uber/Lyft driver. This liability coverage pays:
- $50,000 per person (the limit that one injured person can receive after an accident caused by the Uber/Lyft driver)
- $100,000 total injury liability (the most Uber/Lyft will pay for all injuries after an accident caused by the Uber/Lyft driver), and
- $25,000 property damage liability (for any vehicle or property damage resulting from the accident).
When the driver has accepted a trip/ride, Uber/Lyft provides $1 million in liability coverage, which would apply to injuries sustained by an Uber/Lyft customer whose driver causes an accident, and to injuries and vehicle damage sustained by anyone hit by an Uber/Lyft car.