Injured in an Uber Accident—Who Is Liable?
You may have used an Uber to visit a restaurant, get a ride home, or travel to and from the airport. Since Uber’s establishment in 2009, the company has grown tremendously due to the demand for quick and convenient transportation.
Over the years, car ownership has declined, and people have become more comfortable using apps. Public transportation doesn’t run around the clock, and not all taxi companies offer 24-hour service. Many people like Uber because it is a safe alternative to driving, especially if they have been drinking. People use it for transportation to and from social activities (43 percent of the rides), the airport (22 percent), and work (11 percent). In general, Uber is easy to use and safe, but as with all types of transportation, car accidents can lead to serious or even fatal injuries.
How Does the Law Treat Uber?
Ridesharing services, also called transportation network companies (TNC), provide one-way transportation on short notice. For a fee, using a mobile app or website, the services match an individual driving a private car with someone who requests a pickup location and destination.
They have grown tremendously in popularity. Uber reported 6.368 billion trips, an increase from 5 billion in the previous year. There are about 5 million Uber drivers, and they provide nearly 21 million trips per day. The number of people in the U.S. using ridesharing services has more than doubled in recent years. Over half of those aged 18 to 29 used these services in one recent year.
Transportation network companies like Uber are often described as ridesharing or ride-hailing services; however, the two are not exactly the same.
- Ride-hailing is when a rider hails or hires a personal driver to take them exactly where they need to go. The rider does not share the vehicle with any other riders, nor does it make several stops along a route.
- Ridesharing is when a passenger shares a vehicle with other passengers. It is not personal transportation. Instead, passengers share the space, and it will make stops to pick up other riders. For example, using UberPool, riders going in the same direction can choose to share the ride, and the Uber driver picks up multiple riders along the way.
Transportation network companies such as Uber are often compared to taxis, but there are differences.
One key difference is that while both taxis and Uber create rates depending on time and distance traveled, taxis take the speed and flow of traffic into consideration, while Uber does not charge based on moving or stop-and-go traffic. However, Uber charges surge rates during high volume times. Transportation network companies have to meet regulations on a state (and sometimes city) level.
In Arizona, for example, TNCs have specific license, insurance, permit, and compliance requirements. The rules are different for taxi companies.
There are pros and cons to using Uber. One main advantage is that it’s easy to use. Most people prefer it to standing on the street trying to flag down a cab. You just need an Uber account, which you use to request a ride. You can provide your destination before or during the ride.
The Uber driver sees where you are, accepts your request, and the app notifies you of the estimated time of arrival. You also receive information about the driver. You will know the driver’s first name, the car’s license plate number, and the type of vehicle so that you can confirm it is the ride you requested.
After you arrive and get out of the vehicle, the app automatically charges the applicable fee to the credit card or financial institution you have indicated on your Uber account. You receive a receipt, and if you wish, tip and rate the driver.
One disadvantage is that Uber’s drivers use their own vehicles. Arizona’s Uber drivers are independent contractors, which affects what insurance coverage may be available in the event of an accident.
Common causes of Uber accidents
According to widespread research, human error causes at least 94 percent of motor vehicle accidents. Unfortunately, this is also true of Uber’s drivers.
Common factors that contribute to accidents include:
- Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of Uber accidents because Uber drivers tend to have more distractions than other drivers. While behind the wheel on busy streets, drivers frequently check their Uber app for the passenger’s location and scan the street to locate a passenger waiting for pickup.
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Uber has a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence. That includes having open containers of alcohol or drugs in a vehicle while using the Uber app. If your driver is under the influence, Uber urges you to ask the driver to end the trip immediately, get out of the car, call 911 and report the incident to Uber.
- Drowsy driving. Driving while fatigued is just as dangerous as driving under the influence. Drivers must always assess their level of fatigue before logging on and while driving. Unfortunately, drivers usually try to make as much money as possible, so they may drive too long without a break. Therefore, Uber requires drivers to go offline for six consecutive hours after driving for 12 hours.
- Sudden or illegal U-turns. These are especially common for rideshare drivers because they frequently look for a destination or see their passengers waiting on the opposite side of the street.
- Tailgating or driving recklessly.
- Failing to obey all traffic regulations, signs, and signals.
- Speeding or driving too fast for weather or road conditions.
- Failing to check blind spots.
- Crossing the center line.
- Failing to make necessary repairs and maintain the vehicle.
Who may you hold liable in an Uber accident?
Arizona is an at-fault state, which means that in a motor vehicle accident, the driver who was responsible owes compensation to anyone who sustained injuries or property damage. Identifying the responsible party is difficult in any car crash case. Just as there may be multiple causes of an accident, multiple people or entities may be liable.
An injured person may seek damages against anyone whose negligence might have contributed to the accident, such as:
- The rideshare driver
- Other motorists
- The rideshare company
- The vehicle or parts manufacturer
- A local government agency might be liable if improper signage or road maintenance or signage was an issue
- Cyclists or pedestrians
- Vehicle passengers
Responsibility for damages differs based on the circumstances of the accident.
- Rideshare app is off: If the rideshare app is off, then the driver’s personal auto insurance will be responsible for covering the damages.
- Rideshare app is on: If the rideshare app is on, then the driver’s personal auto insurance and the company’s liability coverage will cover the damages.
- Rideshare app is on while transporting a passenger: If a passenger is in the car, the company’s commercial insurance will cover the damages.
In Arizona, Uber drivers are independent contractors, not employees. Therefore, although you cannot hold Uber vicariously liable for its drivers’ actions, you can hold the company responsible for its own negligent actions.
For example, if Uber hired a driver who did not pass the screening process for Uber drivers, the rideshare company might be negligent for facilitating an unsafe driver transporting passengers. Uber requires that all drivers have a valid driver’s license and maintain proper insurance coverage and legal documents that permit them to work in the United States. Uber also carries insurance policies that cover bodily injury and property damage.
Arizona ridesharing laws
As noted, Arizona law considers rideshare services transportation network companies.
When a transportation network company driver is logged on but has not yet accepted a customer’s request for a ride, they must have motor vehicle coverage of $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident for bodily injury, and $20,000 per accident for property damage.
After the driver confirms a ride request, they must have primary commercial motor vehicle insurance coverage of $250,000 per incident and commercial uninsured motorist coverage of at least $250,000 per incident.
Once the driver logs on and begins working, Uber offers additional coverage. When a driver is logged into the app but has not accepted a ride, Uber’s coverage offers $50,000 for bodily injury of one person, $100,000 aggregate for bodily injury of more than one person, and $25,000 for property damage if the driver’s insurance cannot cover an injured person’s damages.
Once the driver accepts a ride, Uber’s full coverage of $1 million in third-party liability and uninsured motorist coverage goes into effect and continues until the ride ends.
Minimum Uber requirements
The minimum requirements for an Uber vehicle are:
- Must have four doors and be able to transport a minimum of 4 passengers
- Vehicle model must be 15 years old or newer
- Title cannot be salvaged, reconstructed, or rebuilt
- Rental vehicles—except those from an approved Uber rental company—are not allowed
- Cannot have any cosmetic damage, missing pieces, commercial branding, or taxi paint jobs
State and local laws may set more stringent requirements.
If someone other than the driver owns the car, the vehicle’s insurance must indicate that the Uber driver is an insured driver. Uber accepts both official and temporary registration documents.
Regulations in Phoenix require that all drivers display an Uber decal on their vehicle while logged in. Drivers must place the decal on the front passenger windshield facing outward.
Someone applying to drive for Uber must have a valid driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance card for the car they plan to drive. Driver applicants must also be the minimum age for driving as indicated in local law and have at least one year of licensed driving experience. If the individual is under 23 years old, they must have three years of driving experience. In addition, the vehicle must meet Uber’s requirements.
Those who wish to drive for Uber must have a background check that includes their motor vehicle report and a criminal background check. To pass the background check, in the past seven years, the driver must not have had any record of alcohol or drug offenses, no record of driving without a valid license and insurance, no fatal accidents, criminal record, or history of reckless driving.
Common injuries suffered in motor vehicle accidents
- Neck and Whiplash Injuries – This type of injury is very common in car accidents. However, it can cause serious long-term problems if not treated promptly.
- Spinal Cord Damage – The spinal cord transmits messages between the brain and the nervous system. These are among the most severe injuries and can lead to loss of mobility, paralysis, and permanent disability.
- Head Injuries – Car accidents can result in various head injuries, such as concussions and traumatic brain injuries.
- Internal injuries – The force of a motor vehicle crash may lead to internal organ damage. Internal bleeding is not always immediately apparent, but it is very serious and requires emergency medical treatment.
- Fractures – There are more than 200 bones in the human body, and any of them can become fractured in a car accident. Legs, arms, pelvis, and facial bones often brake in a crash.
What compensation might be available?
As with any other personal injury case, the damages you receive after an Uber accident depend on:
- The nature and extent of your injuries
- Current and future lost wages and income
- Pain and suffering resulting from the accident
- How you have suffered a diminished quality of life
Risks of ridesharing
One of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. Prosecutors did not hold the company criminally liable, but charged the vehicle’s backup operator with negligent homicide.
Uber has long struggled with allegations of assault. In a recent year, Uber passengers reported 3,045 sexual assaults in the U.S., a 4 percent increase from the previous year.
One survey of female Uber passengers indicated that:
- 23 percent said they’ve had to report an uncomfortable encounter with a driver.
- 13 percent said the driver made them feel uncomfortable.
- Nearly 10 percent said the driver “hit on” them.
- 5 percent said the driver attempted to contact them after the ride.
- 8 percent said they had to get the police involved due to an Uber driver’s inappropriate behavior
Statute of limitations
The deadline for filing most car accident lawsuits in Arizona’s civil court system is two years. If you fail to file a claim within those two years, the court will likely bar your ability to use the court system to seek compensation.
Therefore, if you or a loved one has been injured in an Uber accident, contact an experienced, dedicated personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Schedule a free consultation and learn how a legal professional can help you recover the compensation you deserve.