Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft are responsible for an estimated 16 million rides per day. With millions of rideshare vehicles on the road, Lyft and Uber accidents in California are more common than you think.
When you step inside a rideshare vehicle, you likely aren’t thinking about the steps to take if the car you are in is involved in an accident. From a legal perspective, however, car accident cases involving Uber or Lyft drivers can get very complex. You’ll want to be aware of existing laws and insurance coverage so that you can get the recovery you need if an accident happens.
Here is the PARRIS guide to liability and insurance coverage following an Uber or Lyft accident.
Who is At Fault for an Uber or Lyft Accident in California?
Uber and Lyft drivers must activate their app to solicit passengers. Potential passengers request a ride to their address of choice, and drivers in the area have the chance to accept or decline a ride.
As is the case for any car accident, the person found at fault for a crash is responsible for covering the injured party’s medical expenses, property damage, etc. If the driver at fault is not the Uber or Lyft driver, their personal liability insurance will cover the injured person’s damages.
If the rideshare driver is at fault, the applicable insurance coverage varies depending on the status of their app when the crash occurs.
If the Uber or Lyft Driver’s App is Switched Off
Rideshare drivers use their privately owned vehicles to drive for work. If they cause an accident while their rideshare app is off, rideshare companies assume the driver was conducting personal business. Therefore, the rideshare company shares no liability for a crash, and the company’s insurance does not apply.
While the driver’s rideshare app is off, the driver’s personal insurance coverage applies. California law requires every driver to carry at least the following minimum insurance coverage:
- $15,000 bodily injury per person
- $30,000 bodily injury per accident
- $5,000 property damage per accident
This situation is no different than a car accident between two private parties. If you are hurt, speaking with a lawyer will help you maximize your personal injury claim against the at-fault driver.
If the Uber or Lyft App is Active, But No Rides Have Been Accepted
If a driver has their app open and active but has not yet accepted a ride, they may drive around and cause an accident. Both the driver’s personal and rideshare company’s insurance would cover an injured third party during this intermediary state.
While the driver’s personal insurance would apply first for any accident, if their coverage is insufficient, Uber and Lyft provide additional coverage up to:
- $100,000 bodily injury per accident,
- $50,000 bodily injury per person, and
- $25,000 property damage per accident.
Unfortunately, Uber and Lyft do not provide similar coverage to their own drivers in California. If a rideshare driver causes an accident and has not yet accepted a ride, their own comprehensive and collision coverage would cover the cost of any damage to their car. They would also be responsible for their own medical bills.
If the Uber or Lyft Driver Has Accepted a Ride or Has a Passenger
When a rideshare driver has accepted a ride or has a passenger in the vehicle, passengers and third parties are protected by the rideshare company’s full insurance coverage. Uber and Lyft provide slightly different coverage in this scenario:
- Uber’s Insurance:
- $1,000,000 liability coverage
- At least $1,000,000 uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage
- Collision and comprehensive coverage with a $1,000 deductible, provided that the driver has collision coverage on their personal car insurance policy
- Lyft’s Insurance
- $1,000,000 liability coverage
- $1,000,000 uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage
- Collision and comprehensive coverage with a $2,500 deductible, provided that the driver has collision coverage on their personal car insurance policy
In each of these scenarios, insurance coverage applies to the Uber or Lyft driver, not the companies themselves. Passengers and third parties can receive compensation under the above insurance policies provided they take legal action against the driver, not Uber or Lyft.
So Can I Sue Uber or Lyft after a Car Accident?
In short, it depends. This issue’s complexity is due in part to a rideshare driver’s status as an independent contractor or an employee under California law.
Most states, including California, have a legal doctrine known as respondeat superior that holds employers liable for the negligence of their employees. If a rideshare driver is considered an employee and causes an accident while on the job, the rideshare company is liable to compensate the victim.
However, most California courts currently consider rideshare drivers independent contractors for liability purposes. This means that rideshare drivers don’t have the same wage and hour protections as regular employees—and that Uber and Lyft aren’t responsible for any accidents they cause.
Thankfully, rideshare companies are considered “transportation network companies” under California law. This means that even though the rideshare driver is an “independent contractor” of the rideshare company, that company’s insurance still applies when the driver is working. This policy ensures that passengers and third parties are covered if an Uber or Lyft driver causes an accident.
The legal battle concerning rideshare drivers’ employee/independent contractor classification is ongoing: you can read about it in our discussion of California independent contractor law. Check with your attorney to see which state law applies to your case.
Can an Uber or Lyft Passenger Sue Their Rideshare Driver?
If you are a passenger in an Uber or Lyft and your driver causes an accident, you may be able to take legal action against your driver, but not necessarily Uber or Lyft themselves.
If you are a passenger in a Lyft or Uber, you agreed to the rideshare company’s terms of service when you began using the app. In doing so, you signed a “mandatory arbitration agreement,” which waived your right to a jury trial if or when you have a claim against the company. You must instead solve your dispute via arbitration, a binding private dispute resolution procedure.
However, there are several exceptions to the arbitration clause, including certain employment law cases and any case involving sexual assault by a rideshare driver.
In addition, the arbitration clause would not apply to an injured third party (that is, if you were in another vehicle struck by an Uber or Lyft). Third parties did not contract with the company and would be able to recover damages under the insurance coverage levels listed above.
If you have a any claim against your Uber or Lyft driver, you should discuss it with an attorney to fully explore your legal options.
What If the Rideshare Accident was Another Driver’s Fault?
If you’re a passenger in an Uber or Lyft and another driver causes an accident, your recovery options may look much different. If a third party was at fault, you can take legal action against them to recover the cost of any medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering your experience as a result of your accident.
Third parties may include, but are not limited to:
- Other drivers
- Municipalities responsible for designing and maintaining roads
- Parts manufacturers or auto mechanics, in accidents caused by faulty or poorly-installed equipment
Speaking with an attorney is the best way to determine what steps to take after an Uber or Lyft accident.
What to Do After an Uber Accident or Lyft Accident
Following an accident, it’s always best to call 911, regardless of who was at fault. Not only does this get you a formal accident report with the police or CHP, but it also ensures that everyone involved in the accident secures the medical care they need.
If you can, you’ll also need to do the following:
- Take pictures and video of the accident scene, each vehicle, and your injuries.
- Get every driver’s name, along with their contact information and insurance information.
- If there were any witnesses, get their contact information.
Contact your insurance company after you’ve taken those steps and received the medical attention you need. While you’re not making a claim with them, you do need to let them know you were involved in a crash. The insurance company will try to work with the at-fault driver’s insurance and the rideshare company’s insurance, if applicable, to determine liability for the accident. (Read more about determining fault after a car accident.)
Unfortunately, rideshare accidents are more complex than regular car accidents. These rideshare companies claim not to be the employer of the driver at fault, and they’re going to put up a fight to try and keep their insurance rates down.
This is why you’ll need aggressive and experienced legal advocacy. After an accident with an Uber or Lyft, get a lawyer on your side who has the experience and expertise required to obtain for you the maximum recovery possible.
PARRIS Helps You Get the Recovery You Need
When you’ve been involved in an Uber or Lyft accident, you deserve to see a full recovery. Securing the help of a trusted legal advocate is the best way to restore balance to your life.
The attorneys at PARRIS have an unmatched track record of results for clients. We’re here to help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact PARRIS today to schedule your free consultation with our team.