Uber & Lyft Accidents

The ride-share companies Uber and Lyft have shaken the transportation industry to its foundations and revolutionized the way many of us call for a car. Yet as both companies have grown, they have systematically avoided a string of legal issues in ways that can affect all of us here in Oregon and Washington, regardless of whether we use these services or not.

Both companies claim they are technology platforms, not taxi companies. As a result, they say, their drivers are independent contractors, not employees, and the company has little or no responsibility for their actions. In the media this is often treated narrowly as a labor issue, but from a legal perspective it actually creates a number of less-often-discussed issues touching not only on drivers and their passengers but also on cyclists, pedestrians and the broader issue of how insurance companies along with state and local governments and courts judge liability.

To pose a few hypothetical questions:

  • If a Portland Uber or Lyft driver is involved in an accident while driving the city’s streets waiting for an assignment, does the company have any responsibility since the driver is ‘on-call’ for the company and awaiting a specific work assignment? What if the accident comes because the driver was fiddling with their smart phone to accept or reject a work offer?
  • If a passenger ‘doors’ a cyclist while getting out of the car does either the driver, Uber or Lyft bear some responsibility for the cyclist’s injuries?
  • How do Uber and Lyft ensure that their drivers are properly licensed? For example, if a driver loses their license because of a DUII conviction unrelated to their Uber or Lyft work? Does the company have procedures in place to determine when a driver who once checked-out is no longer eligible to drive?
  • Will Uber and Lyft assume responsibility if a driver assaults a passenger (this issue has arisen repeatedly, all over the world, for Uber)?
  • How do the companies ensure their drivers are not texting or otherwise engaging in distracted driving?
  • Since the companies take little responsibility for their drivers, who will defend them when they are involved in an accident that is someone else’s fault?
  • When an Uber or Lyft driver is in a crash, do these companies have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) as is required in Oregon, to cover medical costs and lost wages?

The list of legal questions is long and multi-sided. It involves protecting the rights of passengers wronged by drivers, but also those of drivers mistreated or abandoned by their companies. The fact that both Uber and Lyft have long and well-documented histories of ignoring, and at times openly defying, local laws related to taxi and limousine companies does not make things any simpler.

Ride sharing also raises other unique legal issues. For example, Uber and Lyft drivers often carry two different insurance policies for their vehicles: their personal auto insurance and a separate one used when for driving for the company. This is necessary because ordinary personal policies usually do not apply when a vehicle is being used for commercial purposes. A commercial policy, however, may offer very different protections. This adds an extra layer of complication to the often-confusing area of auto accident law.

Anyone injured as a passenger in an Uber or Lyft crash should also seek legal assistance to explore whether they have a claim for damages for underinsured motorist coverage. If another vehicle is at fault and does not have enough (or any) coverage to take care of your bills, lost wages, and all the other harm and losses they caused, what are your options?

At Kaplan Law LLC we have a long history representing people involved in car accidents. Beyond the usual question of whether one of the drivers involved was drinking, acted negligently or was distracted, ride sharing companies present a host of additional issues. The law and our courts are powerful tools for helping people secure justice in the aftermath of an accident, to do that, however, requires experienced and compassionate legal help.

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