Can I Sue a Rideshare Company as a Driver on the Road?
Yes, in certain instances you may be able to sue Uber, Lyft, or another rideshare company if you get into a motor vehicle accident with one of their drivers. In many states, rideshare drivers are considered to be independent of the company, so your claim would lie against the driver instead of the company. But in some states, rideshare drivers act as legal employees of the company, so the company would be responsible for the negligence of its drivers.
However, if you live in what's called a no-fault state, you wouldn't start by suing either the rideshare driver or the rideshare company. You would begin the process by filing a claim with your own insurance company, so make sure you notify your insurance company promptly if you are in an accident.
Personal injury cases can get really complex. You need to provide medical evidence of the nature and extent of your injuries, which requires gathering and reviewing a lot of documents, and then you need to persuade a judge and jury that your claims justify compensation. A skilled personal injury attorney could help you maximize your recovery, so consider hiring one, forming an attorney-client relationship, and getting legal advice before you file your accident case.
What Is a Rideshare Company?
A rideshare company matches customers with drivers for hire using an app or a website. Most work the same way. You create an account, sign in, and plug in your credit card. When you sign into the app, you plug in your destination. A rideshare driver accepts your ride and picks you up. When you get to your destination, your card is automatically charged. Simple as that.
As personal vehicle ownership has declined, ridesharing has taken off. As of 2018, approximately 36% of Americans have used ridesharing services. The two largest companies, Uber and Lyft, make up about 99% of the U.S. market. Uber operates in about 72 different countries and generated around $17.5 billion in revenue in 2021. Lyft operates in the U.S. and certain Canadian cities and generated about $3.2 billion in revenue in 2021.
Motor Vehicle Accidents With Rideshare Drivers
As more and more Americans rideshare, companies have had to increase the number of drivers they have: Uber has about 3.5 million and Lyft has about 1.4 million. And with all of these vehicles on the road, there has been an increase in the number of motor vehicle accidents. According to research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the arrival of ridesharing apps has been associated with a 3% increase in motor vehicle fatalities.
Suppose you are on your way home from a comic book convention. You had a great day and are eager to comb through your haul and pour over the latest Batman Omnibus. As you are driving through an intersection, another driver runs the red light and plows into the side of your vehicle. Thankfully, you're alive, but you are pretty scratched up and your car is totaled.
When you gather your wits about you, you grab your insurance card, get out of the car, and head over to the other driver. Turns out they are an Uber vehicle carrying an Uber passenger to the airport. You ask for their auto insurance information and they tell you that although they have personal insurance, they didn't buy a commercial use endorsement as part of their policy. Which essentially means they don't have liability coverage for the Uber accident.
You may think this means you're out of luck, but don't panic — you may not have to pay for the damage to your car and your medical bills yourself. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get the rideshare company to pony up.
Employee v. Independent Contractor
Before we begin, we need to talk about the legal difference between an employee and an independent contractor.
An employee is hired by an employer to do work. In general, the employer says how that work is to be performed. They get to determine when the work will be done and the manner in which it will be done. In contrast, an independent contractor, while hired to do work, gets to say how the work will be done. They generally set their own hours, use their own tools, and decide how the work will be performed.
This difference here is critical. Under the law, an employer is responsible for the negligence of an employee so long as the employee was acting within the scope of their employment. In other words, a company is legally responsible for harm caused by one of their employees on the job. Lawyers call this “respondeat superior." But a company is not legally responsible for harm caused by an independent contractor.
Suing a Rideshare Company
Whether suing Uber for the harm caused by its driver is an option depends on whether the driver is considered to be an employee or an independent contractor. Thankfully, that's not up to the rideshare company to decide. They can call their drivers "independent contractors" all they want, but a court will make its own determination, based on all the facts and circumstances, whether a driver is legally an employee.
State law also plays a role. Rideshare drivers use their own cars, pay for their own gas, and decide when they will work. They don't have to accept a fare; they are free to decline it. They exercise a substantial amount of control over the driving they do. They determine, in conjunction with the passenger, the route they are going to take. Because the rideshare driver exercises substantial control over the work they do, many states will view them as independent contractors and not allow you to recover from Uber or Uber's insurance.
Many, but not all. In some states, a rideshare driver may, in certain circumstances, be considered an employee of the company. Again, that will depend on the amount of control the company exercised over the driver at the time of the accident. So don't write off the chance of recovering from Uber if one of its drivers hits you on the road, but you would probably benefit from speaking with an experienced accident lawyer who can help you evaluate the facts of your specific case.
What Should You Do?
You may have an uphill battle in a lawsuit against Uber, but that doesn't mean the costs are going to come out of your own pocket. You may be able to get your own insurance company or the driver to pay for your damages.
File a No-Fault Insurance Claim
If you live in what's called a no-fault state, your insurance policy covers damages that you sustain regardless of who is at fault. You also paid for uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage when you bought your policy (in some states UM/UIM insurance is mandatory). This means that if you get in an accident with a driver who doesn't have insurance, your own insurance company will pay for your property damage and injuries.
If you're in a no-fault state, you don't need to worry about suing the rideshare company. You would just file an insurance claim with your insurance carrier. Make sure you notify them of the accident as soon as possible. If you don't, they might deny your claim.
And before you agree to settle your claim, you may want to speak with a personal injury attorney. They will be able to tell you if the amount the insurance company is offering is fair and, if it isn't, they can negotiate on your behalf for a better deal.
Sue the Driver
If you don't live in a no-fault insurance state, you could sue the rideshare driver directly. Unlike the Uber driver who hit you, they may have paid for the commercial use endorsement and therefore have insurance coverage for the accident. Rideshare drivers are generally required by the companies to pay for this extra endorsement, so it is likely they will have it.
But if the rideshare driver doesn't have liability insurance, that doesn't mean they are off the hook. They are still responsible for the damages they caused, regardless of whether they paid for insurance. If you take them to court and win a judgment, they will have to pay you out of whatever assets they have. You also might be able to garnish their wages until the judgment is paid. A good collections attorney could guide you through that process.
A Lawyer Could Help
Depending on where you live, you may be able to recover from a rideshare company if one of their drivers causes you harm. The rideshare company will have financial resources beyond those of the driver, so chances are better that you will be compensated to the fullest extent for your losses if you bring your case against them. But to be successful, you will need to persuade a judge that the driver is an employee and not an independent contractor.
Given the complexities of that distinction, you may benefit from having an experienced personal injury lawyer, especially a car accident lawyer, on your side if you're involved in a rideshare accident. An experienced attorney can give you legal advice at their law office about your options and represent you in court in your personal injury case if you do decide to bring a personal injury claim. If one of your loved ones is killed in a rideshare accident, an attorney can bring a wrongful death case.
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