Contractor Status of Uber Drivers Could Affect Crash Victims

By now, many people in the Las Vegas area have probably had the opportunity to use Uber or Lyft at least once. When using Uber, a driver, who may be just an average citizen with a car and some spare time, picks up and drops off passengers in his or her personal vehicle.

The driver has to provide his or her own gas and vehicle and pay for the vehicle’s upkeep, but the tradeoff is he or she can work flexible hours and as much or as little as he or she wants.

It is for this reason that Uber calls its drivers independent contractors, and not employees. Some state courts, however, have disagreed and instead held that Uber has enough rules imposed on, and controls over, the drivers such that they are indeed the drivers’ employer. The law in this area is in flux right now, but the outcome will have a profound impact on how Uber operates its business.

From the perspective of those who get hurt in commercial vehicle accidents involving an Uber driver, the distinction between independent contractor and employee is important as to how easy it would be to sue Uber itself after an accident. If an Uber driver is an employee, then Uber will be held responsible for the driver’s negligence if the driver was working at the time of an accident.

If, on the other hand, an Uber driver is an independent contractor, then, in order to sue Uber, a victim is going to have to show more than just that the driver worked for Uber. They will have to prove that Uber acted negligently when it hired, or supervised the work of, the driver involved.

What is Vicarious Liability in Car Accidents?

Let’s say you’re driving along a Las Vegas street, and begin making a left turn at an intersection with a green light. Suddenly, a truck comes barreling down the street and hits your car, broadside. Your car is totaled, and you are likely to be seriously injured. Unfortunately, after paying medical bills and going through rehabilitation, while missing months of work, you find out that the truck driver who hit you is broke. Are you completely out of luck in terms of recouping any compensation?

Not necessarily. Of course, it’s possible that the insurance held by the truck driver pays some of your expenses, but insurance policies have limits. And what if the diver wasn’t insured? If the vehicle involved in the accident was a commercial truck, the driver may have been an employee of a company. If this is the case, it may be possible that the company can be held liable for the actions of its worker.

This can be true due to the doctrine of vicarious liability, or more specifically, respondeat superior. Under this theory, if an employee is negligent, his employer may be liable for any damage caused by that negligence. Generally, for this to apply, the employee must be ‘on the clock,’ by performing the duties he or she normally would be as part of the job, and be providing some sort of benefit to the employer.

In many cases, a company employing a commercial vehicle driver will have far more resources available to pay compensation to an injured person than the driver him- or herself. Of course, for such a civil suit to work, there must have been some negligence on the part of the commercial driver, and he or she must be an employee. Some businesses will claim that its drivers are independent contractors, and thus, the company is not liable for any negligence on the driver’s part (this is why it’s difficult to sue ride-sharing companies for accidents). Those who have been injured in commercial vehicle accidents may want to consider exploring their options with an experienced Nevada injury attorney.

Minimum Insurance Requirements for Commercial Vehicles

Many trucks and busses that pass through Las Vegas are either coming from or on their way to another part of the country. As such, the drivers and the companies that own these vehicles are likely subject to federal rules and regulations governing how they operate their business.

One of these rules pertains to insurance, as the federal government expects these types of vehicles to carry additional liability insurance in case they are involved in commercial vehicle accidents that are the fault of the truck driver. This additional liability insurance is required even though the State of Nevada ordinarily requires much less insurance from those who are simply driving personal vehicles.

Specifically, a truck that is hauling property general has to carry $750,000 in liability insurance coverage and must certify as much to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. When a trucker is hauling a hazardous material, the trucker may be expected to carry either $1 million or $5 million in liability coverage, depending on what type of material the trucker plans to transport.

Passenger buses ordinarily have to carry $5 million in liability insurance coverage, presumably so that they can offer protection and compensation to any passenger who happens to get hurt in an accident. Some smaller vehicles that transport passengers across state lines may only have to carry $1.5 million in liability insurance.

The bottom line is that truckers and bus operators are by law required to carry plenty of insurance that will hopefully be available to pay compensation in the event of a serious accident. Accordingly, victims should feel confident about seeking the recovery of medical bills, lost wages and other damages following a commercial vehicle accident caused by a negligent truck or bus driver.

When Is Uber Liable For An Auto Accident?

Q: An Uber driver crashed into my vehicle. Does the driver’s personal liability policy apply or does Uber’s?

A: Which liability policy will apply generally depends on the Uber driver’s “status” at the time of the crash. Here is an overview of the different statuses and their respective coverages:

  • OFFLINE (the vehicle is driven solely for personal use and the app is not active): The driver’s personal liability coverage will apply.
  • AVAILABLE (the driver has activated the ride-share app and is ready to accept passengers): Uber provides a $50,000 per person injury limit and a $100,000 per incident injury limit (in the event that more than one person is injured).
  • EN ROUTE (the driver has accepted a passenger request and is en-route for pick-up): Uber provides $1.5 million in liability coverage.
  • ON TRIP (the driver is transporting a passenger to their destination): Uber provides $1.5 million in liability coverage.

Due to the limited nature of this article, I cannot thoroughly evaluate and answer the question presented. Please give my office a call (702-706-1138) for a proper consultation.

Seeking Compensation for a Ride Service Crash

Ride services such as Lyft or Uber offer new transportation options for tourists and other passengers in Nevada. However, commercial vehicle accidents involving ride-sharing services pose additional legal obstacles for passengers and others seeking compensation for injuries and other losses.

It is unlikely that a lawsuit can be filed directly against the ride-sharing company except where these companies engaged in reckless behavior such as hiring a sex offender or a known impaired driver. Their drivers are considered independent contractors instead of company employees.

These companies may fight liability for accidents involving these drivers. This occurred in a San Francisco case involving a six-year old who died after being struck by a ride-share driver in 2014. Most likely, ride-share drivers are unable to afford the medical bills or other compensation for accident victims.

Passengers who are involved in these accidents should call 911 and photograph the vehicles and ride-share service receipt. Obtaining the names, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of any witnesses is also recommended. The name of the ride-share driver should be written down if is not contained in the victim’s phone.

Lyft and Uber each have a $1 million liability insurance policy covering accidents taking place during the victim’s trip where the ride-sharing driver is responsible for the crash. Any lawsuit should be filed and served upon the driver who is fault. Plaintiffs should immediately send the driver a letter notifying them to keep all data concerning the ride. Copies of legal documents should also be served upon James River Insurance, the company which provides this liability coverage.

If another driver is responsible for the accident, their insurance policy is primarily responsible. For any compensation exceeding the scope of this coverage, Uber and Lyft each have $1 million policies for underinsured drivers.

Legal action is more difficult for victims who are not passengers or where the driver is off-duty. If the driver is off-duty and driving their vehicle for personal reasons, the claim must be made upon the driver’s own insurance policy. The claim must also be made against that policy if the driver is on duty but is not carrying a passenger in their vehicle. When a passenger is being transported and a pedestrian is injured, however, Uber’s insurance applies.

An experienced personal injury attorney can help seek compensation from liable or responsible parties. Lawyers may assure that injured victims can pursue their rights.

Source: Money Magazine, “My Uber got into a wreck. Can I sue?” By Alicia Adamczyk, July 14, 2017

Tell your friends!

© Dimopoulos Injury Law. All rights reserved.

Ethics Disclosures: Past results do not guarantee future outcomes. You may have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees and costs in the event of a loss. Our mission is to provide you with the highest settlement possible in the shortest time possible. We recover more than two million dollars per month on behalf of our clients. Super Bowl is a registered trademark of the National Football League (NFL).  Dimopoulos Law is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with the NFL.702-605-7207