New York Uber and Lyft Accident Attorney
What is a Rideshare Program?
In less than a decade, rideshare programs have become a popular means of transportation across the country and around the world. Commuters who do not have easy access to mass transit and those who would rather not deal with the hassle of hailing a cab, waiting for the bus or getting on the subway can have a private car take them to their destination with just a few taps on a smartphone app.
Rideshare programs such as Uber and Lyft are known as transportation network companies, in that they provide the platform for drivers and passengers to connect. Cars are not hailed on the street like taxi cabs or ride around searching for passengers to pick up. Users download the company’s app, enabling them to request a ride from drivers in their own personal, non-commercial vehicle. Those who place a request are given the name and photo of the driver, make and model of vehicle, and license plate number before the car arrives. Passengers are given access to the route the driver will take to bring them to their destination along with an estimated cost of the trip. All payments are done through the app so there is never a need for cash or using a credit card inside the vehicle.
Drivers involved with these programs are considered independent contractors, meaning they do not actually work for the company they drive for. They decide when they want to work, how often, and for how long. They are given exact directions to passengers’ drop off points and can track the amount of money made throughout the day. Drivers are not only rated by customers on the company’s app but are able to rate the riders they pick up as well.
Since its inception in 2009, Uber has become a multi-billion dollar company with services available in over 65 countries around the world. While it has been widely accepted as a new and convenient alternative to taxis, the company has received criticism for a practice known as surge pricing. Since Uber sets their own rates, it has been known to significantly increase prices in situations when the demand for rides are high, such as bad weather, holidays and events at large arenas and stadiums. Riders can request additional options such as luxury cars, vehicles with accessibility for wheelchairs or car seats, and to be able to share the trip with other passengers to cut down on cost. Uber has also started a service in New York City where customers can order food from participating restaurants and have it delivered by a driver.
Launched in 2012, Lyft has grown to be a major competitor of Uber. The service is available across the country, including major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston. Expansion has even brought Lyft to countries in Southeast Asia. Aside from the individual pickup service, Lyft offers vehicles which can accommodate up to six passengers, as well as daily pick-ups as part of a carpool routine with a reduced rate known as Lyft Line.
Concerns over Uber and Lyft Drivers
Since drivers are considered independent contractors and not employees, there are questions about just how qualified and responsible these drivers are. Uber has certain requirements potential drivers must meet including age and health, along with having a valid driver’s license. Background checks only consist of a criminal search associated with the address a person has lived at for the past seven years. Fingerprinting and subsequent database searches are only performed in New York City (where it is required by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to apply for a license) and Houston (where fingerprint scans have been done on all rideshare drivers since 2014). With Lyft, criminal background checks are run on potential drivers through a number of government databases but there is no fingerprinting. The company no longer operates in Houston, TX (the 4th largest populated city in the nation), due to the city’s fingerprint requirement. As other cities bring forth legislation regarding fingerprint background checks, there is no word if either company will change its policy or simply take the service out of the city entirely.
Since vehicles involved in Uber and Lyft are not owned by the companies, the obligation of maintenance and repairs falls on the driver. There is no system in place to confirm the car a rider gets into has had regular oil changes, fluid checks, tire inspection and other necessary maintenance or repairs. This blind trust also goes towards a driver’s ability and judgement behind the wheel. Uber and Lyft provide no training for drivers, and since they are paid by the number of trips they complete, it is not out of the realm of possibility that drivers will do anything to get a pick-up and drop-off finished as quickly as possible. This may include disobeying traffic laws such as speeding and other forms of reckless driving. Drivers unfamiliar with where they are may take their eyes off the road to check the navigation on their phone.
When an Accident Occurs With an Uber or Lyft Vehicle
When someone is involved in a motor vehicle accident, there is usually an exchange of information with all parties. This is where events get complicated when it comes to Uber and Lyft. As previously stated, the companies maintain that they are simply the technology providers connecting drivers and passengers, and the drivers are not their employees but independent contractors. Therefore, in the eyes of the company it is the driver’s auto insurance that would be responsible for payments regarding any injuries suffered as a result of an accident. In 2015, the Department of Labor released guidelines for this type of situation, stating that people who are “economically dependent” on the company they work for should be treated as employees, and those who are in business for themselves are independent contractors. In some cities, such as San Francisco, Uber drivers must have a business license.
Unlike Uber, Lyft does offer additional insurance coverage for their drivers including a $1 million commercial liability policy. Coverage for uninsured motorist, comprehensive and collision, and liability varies and is only applicable at certain times. Drivers must maintain a certain rating from customers to be eligible for this additional insurance.
While trying to determine whose insurance to deal with, drivers and passengers involved in accidents with an Uber or Lyft vehicle may find it difficult to get in contact with the company. Both Uber and Lyft state they have 24/7 assistance, when in reality that only refers to a Critical Safety Response Line or Critical Response Line, which is to be dialed only in an emergency after contacting 911 and local authorities first. There is no actual customer service number to call so you must resort to trying to get in touch with someone via live chat, email, the help feature on the app, social media, or, if you are lucky, at a local office located in your city.
Legal Help for Uber and Lyft Accident Victims
With the complications and confusion over responsibility in an accident involving a rideshare program such as Uber and Lyft, it is important to have a lawyer well-versed in these types of crashes, the resulting injuries and dealing with the insurance companies. If you have been in an accident as a passenger in an Uber or Lyft vehicle, or as the driver of another car, please contact the experienced attorneys at Finz & Finz, P.C., at (855) TOP-FIRM or fill out our Free Uber and Lyft Accident Case Evaluation form.