Are Uber and Lyft Liable for Your Injuries?

Learn more about how to get compensation from Uber and Lyft when you are injured by a rideshare driver.

By | Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney

Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft offer customers a convenient and cashless form of transportation and drivers a flexible way to earn some cash. But the companies haven't disrupted the transportation industry without some controversy. Uber and Lyft's business practices have raised some legal questions about:

  • the classification of drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, and
  • legal responsibility (liability) for rideshare car accidents and driver assaults against passengers.

If you're thinking about filing an injury claim against Uber or Lyft, it helps to understand the legal landscape.

Can You Sue Uber or Lyft?

Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as independent contractors and not employees, which allows the companies to avoid expenses like unemployment insurance, sick leave, and other employment benefits. The classification is also an attempt by Uber and Lyft to limit their liability for drivers' actions. Courts are more likely to find employers responsible for an employee's actions than the actions of an independent contractor.

So, if you're injured by a rideshare driver, your best bet for compensation is probably going to be the rideshare driver's personal car insurance or the rideshare company's insurance. Uber and Lyft require all drivers to have car insurance and provide some insurance coverage of their own when drivers are available and waiting for ride requests, and when drivers are picking up and carrying passengers. (Learn more about Uber's insurance coverage and what Lyft covers. Coverage limits may vary by state.)

If your insurance claim is denied or underpaid, you can file a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft. But the companies will likely try to use the driver's status as an independent contractor as a defense (see below).

They might also argue that you gave up your right to file a lawsuit and agreed to resolve legal disputes through arbitration when you accepted the terms and conditions of the rideshare service (see below).

Liability Typically Requires Fault

In rideshare lawsuits, liability (the legal obligation to pay) depends on fault or wrongdoing. For Uber or Lyft to be liable for your injuries, you'll typically have to show that a rideshare driver intentionally or carelessly (negligently) caused you harm.

For example, if you're a passenger in an Uber, and you break your leg when your driver crashes into a tree while texting on his phone, you can file a claim with the driver's insurance company and with Uber's insurance company. Your driver's negligence caused the accident and your driver and Uber have a legal obligation to pay for your accident-related losses.

But, if you're a passenger in an Uber, and you break your leg when a drunk driver crashes into your car, you'll probably have to file a claim with the drunk driver's insurance company first. The drunk driver is at fault for the accident, not your Uber driver or Uber. (But if the drunk driver is uninsured or you are the victim of a hit-and-run, Uber's uninsured motorist coverage (UMI) coverage might kick in to pay for some or all of your losses in some states.)

Employee or Independent Contractor: Why It Matters

If an employee of a company is legally responsible (liable) for causing your injury, you can typically file a personal injury lawsuit against the company itself. Under the legal theory of "vicarious liability" (also called respondeat superior), a company is responsible for the acts of its employees when employees are on the job.

For example, if a delivery driver employed by Pete's Pizza rear-ends you while he is making a delivery, you can sue Pete's Pizza. Uber and Lyft say that rideshare drivers aren't like Pete's Pizza delivery drivers. According to Uber and Lyft, rideshare drivers are independent contractors because they supply their own cars and control their own schedules.

Classifying rideshare drivers as independent contractors affects drivers' taxes and limits drivers' protections and benefits. The classification also affects people who are injured by rideshare drivers' negligent or intentional actions.

Hundreds of women have filed sexual-assault lawsuits against Uber and Lyft for failing to properly screen and supervise drivers, failing to prevent drivers from sexually assaulting passengers, and ignoring complaints.

The companies have tried to use the drivers' status as independent contractors to defend against the sexual assault claims. But some courts have found that classification doesn't matter when rideshare drivers assault passengers.

When it comes to rideshare car accident claims, both Uber and Lyft provide some insurance coverage for traffic accidents involving their drivers when drivers are using the apps. If your insurance claim is denied in whole or in part, you can threaten to sue Uber or Lyft directly, but the companies are likely to raise the independent contractor defense or try to send your claim to arbitration (see below).

If you decide to sue Uber or Lyft, you should talk to a lawyer. A lawyer will help you figure out if you can sue and how to get the best outcome possible for your case.

Can Uber and Lyft Force Arbitration?

When riders download and use the Uber and Lyft apps, they agree to the companies' terms of service. The terms of service are a contract between Uber or Lyft and their riders.

But most riders don't read the fine print and are surprised to learn that Uber and Lyft's terms of service require riders to resolve most legal disagreements with Uber or Lyft through binding arbitration. This means riders have:

  • no right to a public trial
  • no right to a jury, and
  • a limited right to appeal.

Riders also agree not to bring a class action against Uber or Lyft when they accept the terms of service.

As of 2018, Uber and Lyft don't require arbitration for sexual harassment or sexual assault claims and individual claims brought in small claims court, but most personal injury claims require arbitration.

The companies might have to prove that you knew about the arbitration requirement before they can enforce it. In 2020, a judge in Philadelphia allowed a woman injured in an Uber car accident to file a lawsuit against the company in court because the app made it possible to register for services without clicking a hyperlink to review the company's terms of service. Learn more about the pros and cons of arbitration.

How Long Do I Have to File an Uber or Lyft Claim?

If you're thinking about filing a rideshare injury lawsuit, don't delay. Each state sets a limit on how much time a person has to file an injury-related lawsuit in court. Different deadlines (called "statutes of limitation") apply to different kinds of cases. If you miss the deadline to file, you lose your right to sue and get compensation for your losses.

Most people file insurance claims right after a rideshare accident. If your insurance claim stalls or goes nowhere, you typically have one to three years from the time of your injury to file a lawsuit in most states. You might have longer to file a claim for property damage.

Learn more about statutes of limitation in your state.

How Much is a Rideshare Claim Worth?

Like any personal injury claim, it's impossible to predict exactly how much your rideshare injury case is worth. The value of your claim depends on your damages (losses), including:

  • the cost of your medical bills
  • your possible need for future medical care
  • your lost income (past and future), and
  • the pain and suffering (physical and mental) caused by the accident

A Lawyer Can Help Can Help You

The rideshare industry hasn't been around for long and the law in this area is changing all of the time. If you've been assaulted by a rideshare driver or injured in a rideshare accident, talk to a lawyer.

A lawyer can help you with an insurance claim, answer your questions about whether you can sue Uber or Lyft, and advocate for you in arbitration or in court.

Learn more about how to find the right attorney for your case. You can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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