In the News: On New Year’s Eve this year, Sofia Liu, a 6 years old girl, died after she, her younger brother and their mother were struck in a crosswalk by a car in a San Francisco, according to a newly-filed lawsuit. At the time of the crash the driver, Syed Muzzafar, was logged on to the Uber X smartphone app and was available to provide rides for people using this “new tech” ride service, the lawsuit said. The driver has also been criminally charged in this horrific incident. Uber has responded by claiming that as the driver was not actually carrying a Uber-linked passenger at the time, they have no liability in the incident. But the attorneys at The Cartwright Law Firm do not see it that way.
After handling numerous cases against taxi companies, shuttle bus companies, and other private transportation firms, it is clear that such “traditional” firms carry insurance and often are self-insured above the levels of standard insurance. This is because they often own the vehicles, dispatch those vehicles, and share in the revenues generated by the drivers, even where the driver is considered an independent contractor, which is the claim that Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft are attempting to use as defense against liability for damages caused to passengers and others. But just because these firms appear to be clever tech-friendly entrepreneurs apparently helping consumers “get around” sometimes less-responsive taxi companies does not mean they are held to a lesser legal responsibility.
The central question that impacts the riding public is a simple one – are you protected in the event of an accident involving use of one of these ride services? Whether a passenger, or a pedestrian or bicyclist, you need to know how these services might complicate your need to be made whole following an accident caused by a driver of Uber or another ride-sharing service. It is important to know that most personal auto insurers will not cover any damages caused when the vehicle is being used for business-related purposes other than general commuting to and from work.
The claim that drivers for these services are independent contractors and therefore assume all liability is a ploy that has been used unsuccessfully by many other businesses, such as hospitals, to try and reduce or eliminate liability and costs for acts caused by their “employees.” The law, however, makes it clear that harms caused or arising during the “scope and course” of work performed for any company that results in any “benefit to the employer” makes such companies liable regardless of how they might wish to characterize such employees.
For the time being, the situation regarding your own safety if you are a fan of these services is “buyer beware,” at least until such lawsuits finally get the attention of policy makers who are willing to hold such companies to the same standards as traditional taxi companies, who must carry sufficient coverage, and who cannot hide behind specious “independent contractor” defenses. The one ray of hope in this situation is that trial courts more often side with the injured party, but this may be scant comfort when you are already facing serious injury and financial loss brought about by entrepreneurs profiting from their own free ride while sticking you with the bill. Until then, The Cartwright Law Firm remains ready to take on such companies to help you find real justice. For more information about your own case, contact us today at 415-433-0444 for a free consultation.