Uber or Lyft Ridesharing Accident
Uber and its ridesharing competitor, Lyft, broke the urban commuting mold a decade ago by promoting an explosion of independent taxi-like commuter services made easily available with just a touch of an app on any smartphone. And while the method of catching a ride has been likely changed forever, the risks associated with traveling as a passenger in a taxi, limousine or other hired car are still as real today as they’ve ever been.
Before the new millennium, the ubiquitous yellow Checker taxicab was the only game in town when it came to hailing a ride across Maryland, whether on the busy streets of Baltimore or Washington, D.C., or in smaller towns such as Laurel or Owings Mills. In days gone by, a handful of taxi companies maintained large fleets of cabs, all of which were required by law to be covered by insurance and other kinds of liability policies. In a way, those were much simpler times for both cabbies and their fares. These days, riders may have faster access to transportation, but the question of what happens next when an cost-conscious commute via Uber turns out to be a much more expensive trip to the emergency room.
Even taking a brief shuttle across town can lead to a serious or even life-threatening accident. These life-changing events take place numerous times each day along Maryland roadways. When the unexpected happens — whether you are traveling in your own car or as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle — contacting a Baltimore, MD, auto accident specialist should be right at the top of your list.Ride Sharing Car Accidents in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
With the advent of Uber and Lyft, traditional taxi services now must compete with a larger pool of vehicles for hire. Cyber ridesharing apps have made it possible for almost any licensed driver with access to a sedan, SUV or minivan to run a private transportation business right out of their home. Is this a good thing? Perhaps, but for whom?
From a purely economic standpoint, many say the consumer benefits greatly from the increased availability of public transportation. Cost-wise, the increase in competition typically drives down price, but what about safety? While both Uber and Lyft provide hefty insurance coverage for all of their contract drivers, this is more an indication of the liability exposure that these companies can experience rather than something that might give potential customers any feeling of security should the vehicle in which they are riding be involved in a serious road accident.
As Maryland personal injury specialists, the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, has watched as Uber and Lyft’s ride-hailing services have expanded worldwide. Uber, now a multi-billion dollar corporation, has seen the total number of participating contractors reach the four million mark; with these drivers serving more than 100 million ridesharing users annually. Considering how relatively young the cyber taxi business is, it’s notable that just a decade after its start, Uber-affiliated drivers represent almost two-thirds of the United States taxi market. Less well known, but just as important to note, Uber drivers now handle almost a quarter of all take-out food delivery orders annually in this country.
Similarly, Lyft’s ride-hailing service has grabbed its own significant portion of the taxi market in the U.S., maintaining a presence in nearly 650 cities nationwide. As with conventional taxi services, both Uber and Lyft experience some amount of regulation though local jurisdictions and, in fact, are actually banned in some areas, not only as pertains to the treatment of their contractors but also for alleged aggressive strategies when dealing with governmental regulators and, in some instances, for turning a blind eye toward what some have deemed unlawful practices.Ridesharing Insurance Coverage — An On-Again Off-Again Proposition
With the increase in Lyft and Uber’s ridesharing services throughout Maryland and the District, automobile and truck accidents involving cyber taxi drivers have seen a corresponding rise over recent years. As Baltimore personal injury attorneys, it has become clear to our law firm that one of the most basic issues facing victims of traffic collisions involving an Uber or Lyft driver is the often complicated issue of dual insurance policies covering the vehicle — that is, establishing whether the driver’s personal automobile insurance policy actually covers the driver’s vehicle when working for Uber or Lyft, or if the policy provided by the ridesharing company when the driver is actively working for one of these companies applies.
First off, it is important to understand that personal auto insurance is unlikely to provide coverage for any kind of traffic accident associated with an individual’s work as a ride-sharing driver. This simple fact is why Uber and Lyft provide coverage for their drivers; however, one must keep in mind that this coverage comes with numerous conditions and other caveats.
Without a doubt, these billion-dollar ridesharing companies do provide hefty accident insurance policies, which protect passengers and drivers in the event of a serious Maryland roadway accident. However, not all traffic accidents involving a Lyft or Uber operator will necessarily be covered to the same extent, if at all. We’ve broken down the typical conditions under which a ridesharing accident may be covered, as follows:Available, But No Passengers on Board
When an Uber or Lyft driver is available for a fare and waiting for a customer to request a ride through the “app,” the driver is covered under both Uber and Lyft policies. Coverage at this stage is limited to liability only — providing for $50,000/person or $100,000/accident. It is important to note that this insurance applies only if the driver’s insurance limits are less than the policy provided by the company.Ride Accepted
When a Lyft or Uber driver accepts a ride from a potential passenger — regardless of whether the fare is already on board or has yet to be picked up — the primary insurance policy ($1 million coverage) provided by either of these companies should be activated.Personal Use
If an accident takes place when a ridesharing driver is operating his or her vehicle for personal use, neither Lyft nor Uber’s provided coverage will apply — in this case, the driver’s personal insurance policy may cover the accident.Complications to Coverage
Although Uber and Lyft do provide significant insurance coverage for some accident situations, circumstances can arise that complicate the question of how much coverage, if any at all, will be provided. This is because drivers who work for these ride-hailing corporations are not technically “employees,” but contractual workers. For instance, if a Lyft operator was drunk and intentionally struck another vehicle due to road rage or some other emotional problem, the insurance carrier could possibly deny any claim for damages.
Unfortunately, the convoluted nature of insurance coverage for vehicles used in ridesharing activities results in an odd system of insurance protection that often works better for these large corporations than for the drivers and victims involved in bad road accidents.
And while this system may help to instill confidence in passengers’ minds that they are adequately covered in the event of a ridesharing-related automobile collision, it likely won’t be of any great help to a pedestrian who is seriously hurt after being struck by an Uber or Lyft driver cruising the city streets while awaiting his next fare.
At Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, we know that there can be a significant difference between being seriously hurt by an Uber or Lyft driver who is carrying passengers and being struck by the same driver as he pulls out of a parking garage while waiting for his next fare. The problem is that ridesharing drivers have what could be termed “variable insurance coverage” that follows them throughout the course of their workday. Looking at it another way, the amount of insurance coverage for these drivers is often determined, more or less, by chance.
This unusual arrangement of insurance coverage provided by these large ridesharing companies is driven solely by their bottom line. It is made possible by their ability to differentiate, in real time, when one of their contract drivers is (or isn’t) responding to or transporting a customer. But in real-world terms, it makes little sense to assume that a negligent Lyft or Uber driver will cause less physical injury and/or property damage simply because he or she is not carrying paying customers.
As stated earlier, these online ride-hailing services typically maintain that their drivers are contractual workers and not “employees" in the traditional sense. As a result of this differentiation (from the standpoint of employment), if an Uber operator causes a serious injury accident on the Capitol Beltway, for instance, his or her "App Employer" can deny responsibility for any negligent act on the part of that driver, often leaving the injured victims to fend for themselves. Certainly, it’s hard for any reasonable person to deny that many facets of these ride-hailing jobs tend to meet the legal definition of the typical employee-employer relationship.Uber Drivers Injured by a Negligent At-fault Motorist
Another very troubling situation can take place when an Uber or Lyft driver is badly injured in a road accident caused by another Maryland motorist. While a rideshare driver who is involved in a car crash on a Baltimore or Washington, D.C., street may believe that she is covered by her own personal auto insurance, the applicable coverage has a great deal to do with whether or not the victim was engaged as a ridesharing operator at the time of the collision.
Under normal circumstances, an “off-duty” Lyft or Uber driver might assume that their personal automobile insurance policy would provide the necessary coverage, but this may not always be the case. Complications could arise when there is a question of which insurance policy was in force at the time of the accident. This can be a serious financial issue for a badly injured individual, especially in cases where the ridesharing operator has a personal auto accident policy that provides high monetary coverage.
Depending on the circumstances, the Uber or Lyft contract driver’s personal insurance carrier might argue that the driver was using the vehicle for his job, which could result in the victim losing out on what could be a very important financial benefit. The factors affecting this type of auto accident case could be numerous, which is why it is imperative that anyone who drives for a ridesharing company should seriously consider contacting a qualified Maryland automobile injury accident attorney to better understand her options following an injury-related traffic accident.
The bottom line is that there will be numerous issues involving the question of insurance coverage and financial responsibility any time a Maryland traffic accident involves a vehicle used to provide Lyft or Uber ridesharing services. And even in jurisdictions that have experience with ride-hailing businesses, the need to retain a skilled personal injury lawyer who understands the intricacies of automobile insurance law and litigation is essential.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a Maryland or Washington, D.C. ridesharing traffic accident, please understand that victims of such collisions may be entitled to monetary compensation. The knowledgeable Baltimore, MD, personal injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, have the legal training and courtroom experience to handle all manner of car, truck and motorcycle accident cases. We know what it takes to help our clients get the compensation they deserve under the laws of the State of Maryland. Call us today to arrange a free, no-obligation initial legal consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.