An Uber driver has been charged with reckless homicide following a multi-vehicle collision earlier this summer in Chicago’s Northwest Side Belmont-Cragin neighborhood. This tragic incident highlights questions many may have about who might actually be financially responsible when a ridesharing crash occurs.
A Deadly Ridesharing Crash
On June 11, 2017, at approximately 9:50 a.m., 52-year-old Richard Massenburg (later identified as an Uber driver) was reportedly speeding in his 2015 Nissan Altima near the intersection of Diversey and Cicero Avenues at an estimated 81 miles per hour, according to prosecutors. Mr. Massenburg then allegedly blew through a red light and crashed into the first of several vehicles involved, operated by Javier Castrejon, 38. Mr. Castrejon’s 42-year-old wife was his passenger.
The impact of the initial crash caused Mr. Castrejon’s vehicle to crash into the vehicle directly ahead of it. Despite these collisions, Mr. Massenburg reportedly continued speeding north on Cicero Avenue until he struck another vehicle stopped at the red light.
Mr. Castrejon and his wife were taken to Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead from massive trauma to the head and torso at 10:51 a.m. An unidentified 39-year-old woman was also treated at Illinois Masonic, while two other women, ages 27 and 39, were treated at Community First Medical Center; all three were in stable condition.
Mr. Massenburg reportedly tested positive for the active ingredient in marijuana when he was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital following the crash.
Charges Including Reckless Homicide
Mr. Massenburg appeared in court on August 5, 2017, where a Cook County judge charged him with one count of reckless homicide and ordered him held on $250,000.00 bail at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building. Mr. Massenburg also faces multiple traffic citations, including two counts of driving under the influence, failure to reduce his speed to avoid a collision, and operating an uninsured motor vehicle.
Two witnesses also identified Mr. Massenburg as the driver of the speeding vehicle, and the crash was captured by both red light cameras and surveillance cameras from a nearby gas station.
During his hearing, prosecutors identified Mr. Massenburg as a driver for Uber, the popular ridesharing service. They also noted that, though he had no passengers in his vehicle, his Uber app was “open” at the time of the crash.
An Uber spokesperson stated that the company fired Mr. Massenburg upon learning about the crash. The question remains, though: Who would be financially responsible for injuries and damages in a ridesharing crash such as this one?
Ridesharing and Insurance
Since debuting in 2012, the ridesharing industry has expanded at a remarkable rate. According to one estimate, drivers working for such popular ridesharing services as Uber and Lyft provide approximately two million rides per day throughout the world. The appeal of these services to consumers is understandable. With a simple smartphone app, passengers can use GPS to connect with nearby drivers who can take them where they want to go, with fares that are charged directly to preloaded credit cards. This seemingly simple business model, however, can become awfully complicated when there is a ridesharing crash.
In the United States, employers are typically financially responsible for injuries and other damages caused by their on-duty employees. But ridesharing services do not consider themselves traditional employers, and companies like Uber have emphatically and repeatedly denied that their drivers are “employees.” The drivers, these companies argue, can work as little or as often as they want to, they have no direct supervisors to whom they report, they do not receive benefits, and they are not eligible for workers’ compensation.
Some critics have found fault with this assertion that ridesharing drivers are not employees since they would not have customers without the companies’ apps to direct them to passengers, much less pay them, and there is at least one case about the matter pending in a California Federal Court. Regardless of the exact employment status of a ridesharing driver, however, who is financially responsible in the case of a ridesharing crash? The answer depends on when the crash occurs. Consider the following scenarios:
Driver Has Not Logged Onto the App
Drivers typically use their own vehicles when “working” for ridesharing companies. Presumably, they either fully own or are making payments on these vehicles. As such, they are required, in Illinois and other states, to carry minimum liability insurance on their vehicles. If a ridesharing driver is operating his or her vehicle without his or her app open, the driver is not considered to be “working” according to ridesharing companies such as Uber or Lyft. Therefore, whatever insurance the ridesharing company would have on that vehicle would not apply. The only insurance likely available to compensate somebody injured by that driver in a crash would be that driver’s own individual insurance, the insurance associated with that vehicle if the driver is not the owner, or the uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage that the person involved in a collision with a driver would have, if any.
Driver Is Logged On But Has Not Accepted a Ride
Uber and Lyft characterize this as Period 1 for a driver. The driver’s personal liability insurance is the primary one to be pursued in the case of crash-related injuries or damage. That said, the ridesharing companies offer contingent coverage of up to $50,000.00 per person for injuries, $100,000.00 per incident, with $25,000.00 for property damage, provided that the driver’s own insurance has already been exhausted. After that contingent insurance is exhausted, whatever underinsured insurance the person or persons injured by the driver may have, if any, would come into play.
Driver Is En Route to a Call or Has Passengers
When a driver is either en route to pick up a passenger (Period 2) or already has passengers in the vehicle (Period 3) at the time of a ridesharing crash, Uber and Lyft offer coverage of up to $1 Million per incident, again provided that the driver’s own insurance has already been exhausted.
The Importance of Timing
As you may see, the amount of coverage potentially available for recovery for injuries and damages sustained in a ridesharing crash can vary wildly depending upon what the driver was doing at the time of the crash. According to the prosecutors in Mr. Massenburg’s case, while he had no passengers when the crash occurred, his Uber app was allegedly turned on at the time of the incident. If he had not yet accepted a fare when he was involved in the collision, the amount of compensation for all injured parties could be limited to a maximum of $100,000.00 for all, assuming that Mr. Massenburg’s personal insurance did not exceed that amount. If, however, Mr. Massenburg had been going to pick up a fare at the time of the ridesharing crash, as much as $1 Million could potentially be available.
Therefore, it is absolutely essential for an injured party and/or the attorney he or she has hired to obtain accurate information about when exactly a ridesharing crash occurred since the difference in the amount of potential recovery could be significant.
Did a Ridesharing Driver Actually Have Insurance?
Regardless of when exactly a ridesharing crash occurs, all of the above scenarios place the ridesharing driver’s personal insurance as the first line of recovery. This begs the question: Did the driver actually have insurance? One can imagine cases where an individual driver might literally have no coverage at all, for which Mr. Massenburg has been cited.
But there may also be cases when a ridesharing driver thinks he or she has coverage but actually does not because the insurance company explicitly excludes using a personal policy for business purposes, such as delivering pizzas or giving rides for payment. While there are insurance companies, both in Illinois and throughout the country, that offer ridesharing insurance to pick up gaps in coverage, because of the newness of the industry, many drivers may be either unaware of such policies or unwilling to take on the additional expense. All of this can greatly impact the amount of money available to someone who has been injured in a ridesharing crash.
Ridesharing Crash Litigation
Ridesharing crash litigation can be highly complicated. The amount of money an injured person can potentially recover may depend upon extensive research to determine the level of personal liability insurance available, whether or not that insurance policy had work exclusions, if that responsible driver was “working” for a ridesharing service, and, if so, what he or she was doing for that ridesharing service, if anything, at the time of the crash. For this reason, people injured in a ridesharing crash often find that they benefit from the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney, like the car accident attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers, Illinois’ largest Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firm.
If you have been injured in a ridesharing crash or in some other way, please call GWC today to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.