Lyft Liability in the Age of Ride Sharing

Ride sharing is here to stay, thanks to the aggressive efforts of companies like Lyft and Uber to side-step commercial regulations that apply to taxis and limousines. Major cities including Boston have swarms of ride share drivers to rival cab companies much to the delight of residents but not necessarily the cab companies and cab drivers who have protested bitterly about their presence.

Ride Sharing Insurance Issues

A key issue in the age of ride sharing is ride hail liability and insurance coverage.  One of the major arguments that the ride sharing companies have asserted is that its drivers are independent contractors and thus they bear no liability or responsibility for Lyft car accidents caused by one of its drivers.

As a side issue, cab companies are usually bonded. In Massachusetts, cabs are only required to carry the minimum coverage of $20,000/injured person and $40.000 per accident.  These limits will barely cover minor injuries in most cases.  Also, personal injury cases involving cabs are notoriously difficult to settle in Massachusetts.

Uber, Lyft and its cousin, Sidecar, maintain that because its drivers use their own vehicles, drive at their own convenience and merely use its app as a platform through which people can request a ride, that it has no civil liability for injuries caused by drivers who are seeking passengers.  But when an Uber driver killed a small child in San Francisco and Uber denied that it owed any compensation the outcry more or less forced a settlement whereby the ride sharing companies had to offer coverage under certain conditions.

Are You Covered In a Lyft Car Crash?

The current situation seems to be that the personal driver has to carry personal auto liability coverage, which solely applies when the driver is engaged in personal business or when the ride share app is not on.  Otherwise, the following applies:

  • Drivers are only required to have the minimum coverage allowed by law in the state where they drive; like taxis, this is $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident
  • If the ride hail app is on and the driver is searching for passengers, the driver’s personal insurance is primary. When exhausted, then the companies may then offer what that state’s insurance law requires.  Uninsured and underinsured coverage is offered as well.
  • If the app is on and the driver is on the way to pick up a passenger or has passengers onboard when the accident occurs, then the commercial policy of $1 million is applicable. This is a significant difference from the standard Massachusetts taxi coverage.

When Does a Ride Share Company Pay?

Since Lyft and its cousins agreed to providing insurance coverage in cases where its drivers’ apps are on, there should be little dispute over when it will pay in Lyft car accidents where a driver negligently injures or kills someone.  However, in a 2014 fatal accident in Sacramento where a Lyft driver was cited for making an unsafe turning movement that killed a 24-year old passenger, the family’s attorney has charged the company with dragging its feet on settling. Family members have complained that the company has kept silent regarding the accident and has forced them to litigate a case where liability and damages are obvious.

While it is not unusual for a company that is involved in litigation to say very little about the matter, public relations and image are very important to any business.  Lyft should have settled this matter shortly after an investigation placed blame solely on the Lyft driver; the company certainly would have escaped negative public scrutiny over its coldhearted approach.

Lyft’s Defense

Lyft, however, has alleged certain defenses.  Like Uber, it is asserting that the negligent Lyft driver was an independent contractor, thus insulating the company from any responsibility.  In other injury and death cases against Uber and Lyft, plaintiffs have alleged negligent training or hiring by the companies rather than using vicarious liability principles to hold them responsible. Vicarious liability holds employers liable for the acts of its employees if committed in the course and scope of their employment.

Should the court find that Lyft’s driver in this instance was an independent contractor, you might expect action by states to subject ride share companies to the same or similar strict regulations imposed on commercial carriers.

Wrongful Death Damages

In Massachusetts, a wrongful death action is generally brought by the administrator for the decedent’s estate for the benefit of the immediate family members.  Damages may include:

  • Medical expenses incurred for the final care and treatment
  • Burial and funeral expenses
  • Loss of financial support
  • Loss of the decedent’s love, affection, guidance and counsel
  • Loss of the value of household duties performed by the decedent, if applicable
  • Pain and suffering if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered before succumbing
  • Punitive damages if the defendant was grossly negligent or exhibited conduct that willfully ignored or violated the safety of the decedent

Retain Wrongful Death Lawyer Neil Burns

Wrongful death claims cause extreme emotions to surface.  The loss of a loved one in a tragic accident can haunt family members for decades if not for a lifetime.  Wrongful death lawyer Neil Burns has been representing the families who have suffered such losses for over 30 years.  Issues such as ride hail liability and Lyft car accidents may pose complex issues that require the skills and knowledge of a seasoned attorney like Neil Burns who will fight for your right to adequate compensation.  Call his office today for a free evaluation of your claim.