There is no denying the popularity of Ride-Sharing Applications in the Bay Area and throughout the country. Lyft, Uber and their ever-growing roster of imitators and competitors are supplanting taxis, limousines and even many private cars. These companies are leading the way to a universe of self-driving vehicles which may revolutionize how we think about transportation options.
Our clients are asking some important questions about these services and we thought we would share some of these interchanges with you.
Q: What happens if I’m in an accident with one of these services? Are they insured? How do I find out?
A: The Public Utilities Commission now requires ride-sharing enterprises to carry liability coverage. But the amounts of insurance limits may vary from one enterprise to another and may depend upon whether the driver has a fare or is going to pick one up. Should you be injured in a collision with a vehicle being operated by one of their drivers try to get a copy of the driver’s agreement with their employer at the scene (if possible) or as soon after as possible.
Some employees (the companies like to call them “independent contractors”) display logos on the windshield but we have seen many instances where multiple decals are affixed to the glass. The operators may also carry their own insurance so that may also be a source of compensation if you are injured.
Old advice (updated) may still be good advice. Always try to get a police report of any motor vehicle collision so this information can be collected by the local officials. Many local police departments now refuse to respond to auto accidents unless there is a “serious injury” or an ambulance transport. If you or any of your passengers has suffered any sort of significant trauma always request a police response and report, even if it takes some time.
The Law still requires persons involved in collisions to file an “SR-1” form with the DMV. Most people ignore this regulation but filing same with the State will give you a foundation for finding out insurance data about the persons who hit you.
Your own auto insurance may also provide coverage and benefits to you if you are struck by a ride sharing company. This is true even if you are a pedestrian.
Finally, we urge our clients to snap pictures not only of vehicle damage caused by an accident but also the drivers of the other cars. A photo of the ride sharing driver may later establish if in fact he is the person who signed the contract with the employer to participate in their program or if he has convinced someone else to do the driving for him.
Q: I use these services to take me to work or on errands. How do I protect myself if they cause an accident?
A: All of the above advice applies. Take pictures of the scene, the driver and try to get his insurance information. And make sure you have your own health insurance coverage…you cannot rely on any medical “benefits” that might provide limited help to any passengers who are on board.
Q: Are there any special rules that relate to ‘traditional” ride sharing…taxis, jitneys, buses, BART, trains, ferries etc?
A: When you think about it, “ride-sharing’ for a fee is not new. The first passenger on a stage coach west probably shared the ride with a few other brave souls. And we all use wheeled (or pontooned) transit to get around all the time. Some local transit districts have even started “personalizing’ trips on buses with “dial up” services.
The key thing to keep in mind if you’re injured in public transit is that Government Claims rules almost certainly apply. That means a written form must be filed with the responsible entity within 6 months of the incident. Other strict time limits kick in later. An attorney can help guide you through the thicket of statutes and regulations.
Q: Do ride-sharing services have any heightened legal obligation to paying passengers?
A: Yes. Under the California Civil Code transit services for hire are generally considered “common carriers” which legally owe their passengers the utmost duty of care. The Courts have even extended this ultra high duty to conveyances like escalators and even some amusement park rides.
You have rights if you’re hurt in a ride-sharing vehicle. If you have any doubts, contact an attorney who specializes in personal injury and who understands the intricacies of the Government Code, Public Utilities law and the latest court decisions.