Have you been involved in an accident involving an Uber?
Rideshare services are exploding in the United States today, with Uber at the head of the pack.
By some estimates, Uber employs one million drivers in the United States alone, and nearly 3 million drivers in 560 cities worldwide, while its most recent company valuation was $68 billion. Uber far outstrips its closest domestic competitor, Lyft, which has an $11 billion valuation and an estimated 700,000 drivers in the United States.
But with so many drivers working for Uber, it stands to reason that an increasing number of car accidents may also involve the company. And in fact, Uber has been the subject of multiple high-profile incidents suggesting negligence on its part.
High-Profile Uber Accidents
Injuries resulting from an Uber accident typically fall into three categories:
- Uber passengers injured while in the Uber vehicle.
- Other motorists and pedestrians injured where the Uber drivers are at fault.
- Uber drivers injured when other motorists are at fault.
Some Uber accidents have gained national notoriety in recent years, including the following:
- August 2016 – Uber paid an undisclosed settlement to the family of a 6-year-old girl who was struck and killed by an on-duty Uber driver while walking with her mother and brother in a San Francisco crosswalk.
- January 2017 – A 24-year-old college student filed a lawsuit against Uber for failing to adequately screen its drivers. She was paralyzed from the chest down in Dallas when her Uber driver ran a red light and was T-boned at an intersection by a pickup truck.
- August 2017 – An Uber driver was charged with reckless homicide following a multi-vehicle collision in Chicago.
- March 2018 – A self-driving Uber that was part of a test program struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, AZ. Uber shut down its test program following the incident, while experts have suggested that defects in the company’s autonomous technology may have been at fault.
Such tragic incidents involving Uber are far too common, with some critics of the company arguing that the nature of the job itself may encourage Uber drivers to take unnecessary risks to maximize compensation.
Risks to Uber Passengers, Others
Uber drivers are paid to use their personal vehicles to transport passengers at reduced fares, with Uber sharing with the drivers the profits earned from the trips. While driver pay is calculated by distance, total payment is largely determined by the number of rides an Uber driver can complete per day. This system of compensation may encourage Uber drivers to speed, which can sometimes lead to auto accidents that inflict serious injury on their passengers and others on the road.
Because they receive fares and navigate using their smartphones, Uber drivers may also be more likely to be distracted by their handheld devices, further increasing the rate of serious accidents. Uber drivers also typically have less safety training than their professional taxi and limousine driver counterparts.
Moreover, some critics find fault with the system Uber has in place for vetting potential drivers. Uber uses a private third-party service to run background checks, not a system involving fingerprints or the employment of law enforcement. Drivers can start the pre-screening process online within minutes, provided they have a social security number, a driver’s license, a vehicle, and a clean (non-violent) criminal background. Uber does not accept drivers who have had a recent DUI, a reckless driving charge, or a serious speeding violation, but some argue that the system has allowed drivers with felony records to slip through, putting passengers at risk for robbery, battery, sexual assault, and kidnapping.
To that end, Uber is currently facing a class action lawsuit, with two women asking the court to force Uber to change its driver screening practices on behalf of all US riders who were “subject to rape, sexual assault, or gender-motivated violence or harassment by their Uber driver in the last four years.” The lawsuit faults the company for only going back seven years for its background checks, and cites the more than 8,000 drivers in Massachusetts who were pulled off the road after the state government introduced more stringent screenings of Uber and Lyft drivers.
Faced with such dangers, many people may find themselves seeking financial compensation for injuries they sustained as a result of Uber’s negligence, but personal injury litigation in such matters brings its own special set of challenges.
Uber Accidents and Financial Responsibility
One challenge that is specific to Uber accidents involves the ambiguous nature of financial responsibility. In the United States, employers are typically financially responsible for injuries and other damages caused by their on-duty employees. But like other rideshare services, Uber does not consider itself a traditional employer, and it has repeatedly denied that its drivers are “employees,” but rather independent contractors. The drivers, Uber argues, 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.
So who is financially responsible in the case of an Uber accident? The answer depends on when the crash occurs. Consider the following scenarios:
- Driver Has Not Logged On to the App – Drivers typically use their own vehicles when “working” for rideshare 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 driver does not have Uber’s app turned on, he or she is not considered to be on duty, since he or she cannot receive potential fares. Therefore, only the driver’s own auto insurance would apply in the case of an Uber accident, which can be capped at as little as $25,000.00 for a single injured person in Illinois.
- Driver Is Logged On But Has Not Accepted a Fare – Uber characterizes this as Period 1 for a driver. The driver’s personal liability insurance is the primary source to be pursued in the case of crash-related injuries or damages. That said, Uber offers 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 motorist coverage the person or persons injured by the driver may have, if any, would come into play.
- Driver Is Headed to a Fare or Has Passengers – When a driver is either headed to pick up a fare (Period 2) or already has passengers in the vehicle (Period 3) at the time of a rideshare accident, Uber offers 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 an Uber accident can vary greatly depending upon what the driver was doing at the time. 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 an Uber accident occurred, since the effect on potential financial compensation could be significant.
Did an Uber Driver Actually Have Insurance?
Regardless of when exactly an accident occurs, all of the above scenarios place an Uber driver’s personal insurance as the first line of recovery. But there may also be cases when an Uber driver thinks that 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 rideshare insurance to pick up gaps in coverage, because the industry is so new, many Uber drivers may either be 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 an Uber accident.
Chicago Uber Accident Attorneys
As you can see, Uber accident litigation can be challenging. 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 Uber, and, if so, what he or she was doing for Uber, if anything, at the time of the crash.
Taking all of these potential roadblocks into account, those who have been injured in an Uber accident might find that they could benefit from the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney, like the Chicago Uber accident attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers, Illinois’ largest Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firm.
If you have been injured in an Uber accident 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.
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