Over the past few years, ridesharing services have grown exponentially, adding tens of thousands of drivers across the country. Uber, the big player in the industry, has seen a massive increase in manpower, from almost no drivers in the middle of 2012 to more than 160,000 at the end of 2014.
The growth shows no signs of slowing down. In major markets like Miami and Houston — the sites of recent expansions — growth is surpassing older markets like New York and Los Angeles.
Uber now Operating Legally, Won’t Share Fleet Size
In Miami-Dade County, commissioners voted in May to legalize the ridesharing business model. The move allows freelance drivers to charge fees that increase and decrease according to current usage volume.
The vote gave legitimacy to Uber, which already was thriving in the area and claimed to have more than 10,000 drivers operating in Miami-Dade. Since the vote, though, Uber has shown reluctance to use the government-sanctioned process to become legal in the county. Instead, Uber asked the county government to provide customized procedures allowing the company to bypass a step and gain a permanent license.
The county refused, and officials have hit Uber with nearly 100 citations since commissioners voted to legalize ridesharing. Just recently, Uber finally applied for and received a temporary license but also asked county officials not to disclose the size of its fleet. The county apparently agreed, issuing a redacted version of the company’s application that did not disclose the number of vehicles in use.
Pros and Cons of Ridesharing
Ridesharing offers many perks to riders and drivers alike. For riders, the services are a convenient, affordable way to get around urban and suburban areas without the hassle of owning a car. For drivers, services like Uber provide the opportunity to work flexible schedules without the big initial investment typically required to start a business.
But for both riders and drivers, it’s important to understand how the ridesharing business model can have a negative impact when accidents happen. Drivers for Uber and similar services are set up as contractors — not employees — and issues surrounding insurance and liability can be murky for both drivers and passengers. Keeping secret the number of drivers in the county doesn’t help make issues any more clear for the public.
Ridesharing and Liability
Although Uber makes significant efforts to highlight safety — through background checks of drivers and a code of conduct, for instance — the company alleges that it bears no legal liability for the quality of service or the safety of drivers.
If you’re riding in an Uber vehicle and are injured in an accident, Uber says the driver — not the company — is liable. In addition, if a driver assaults a rider, the company contends that it has no involvement or responsibility. However, we believe the law says otherwise. Simply saying we are not responsible, is not the law. We believe courts would lookout a host of factors, and those factors would hold Uber responsible for the drivers actions.
Uber’s terms — which riders agree to when signing up for the service — note that the company offers no guarantee of the safety, suitability, quality or abilities of drivers. In addition, riders agree that they bear the “entire risk” of use of the service.
Insurance Coverage and Gaps
Initially, the ridesharing industry demonstrated reluctance to provide any insurance for drivers. Companies now do offer some insurance for drivers, and insurers are creating policies specifically targeted to drivers for Uber and other services.
Currently, Uber provides the following coverage to drivers:
- Liability of $1 million for each incident — but only from the time a driver has accepted a specific job until the conclusion of that job.
- Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage for bodily injury of $1 million. Coverage applies to injuries to any occupants of the driver’s vehicle if an uninsured or underinsured motorist is responsible for causing an accident.
- Collision and comprehensive coverage during a specific trip, provided that an Uber driver also has their own comprehensive and collision coverage on the vehicle.
- Limited liability coverage that pays between trips only if the driver’s own insurer declines to cover an incident.
The Uber coverage does leave some gaps for drivers. For example, if a driver is using the Uber app but has not accepted a passenger, no coverage is available from the company for property damage if an accident occurs. In addition, liability coverage for drivers who have not accepted trips is low, at just $50,000 for each injured person.
Will Liability Waivers Hold up in Court?
Uber riders currently have no choice other than accepting the terms that stipulate they ride at their own risk and cannot hold the company liable for any harm. But will the position of Uber and other services like it pass court tests?
Consumers may soon have an answer as cases make their way through the courts. One case involves women riders in South Carolina and Massachusetts who assert that they were sexually assaulted by male Uber drivers. The plaintiffs say the company made misleading statements about the safety of the service, and they contend that they did not explicitly agree to the conditions before signing up.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages from Uber, along with revised safety practices that include full background checks of drivers with fingerprinting. A trial is scheduled for early next year.
Work with an Experienced Uber Accident Attorney
If you’re injured in an accident involving an Uber driver, it’s important to get legal representation to protect your rights. Please contact the experienced attorneys at Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, for a free consultation today.