Ridesharing has grown from something of a niche form of transportation to a mainstream option almost everywhere. But as with any other form of transportation, accidents happen, and rideshare passengers suffer injuries as a result. In other instances, Uber® and Lyft® passengers have been the targets of sexual assault and other misconduct committed by rideshare drivers.
When a passenger takes legal action over injuries sustained in a rideshare vehicle, a key issue is that companies like Uber® and Lyft® classify (or try to classify) their drivers as independent contractors, not employees. But more than a few lawsuits against Uber® and Lyft® have been successful. Let's look at the recent legal landscape of rideshare passenger injury cases.
Vicarious liability is a legal theory that makes an employer potentially liable for the misconduct of its employees. But this transfer of legal liability for accidents and other incidents does not apply if the employment relationship involves an employer and an independent contractor.
Rideshare companies like Uber® and Lyft® claim that their drivers are independent contractors and not employees. This means if someone gets hurt as a result of a rideshare driver's negligent or intentional act, the company might escape liability.
There are other advantages a business can gain from hiring independent contractors, especially when it comes to an employer’s tax obligation.
For workers, an independent contractor classification means not having access to employee benefits and certain state-mandated protections reserved for employees, like unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance.
Given how important this worker classification is to both rideshare companies and drivers, there has been extensive litigation and legislation on this issue.
One of the most notable developments occurred in 2019, when California passed AB-5, a law requiring use of a special test to determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. Often referred to as the ABC test, this test is very worker-friendly, as it requires all of the following elements before a worker can be deemed an independent contractor and not an employee:
Many other states and the federal government do not have such a test in place, but that hasn’t stopped plaintiffs from successfully bringing legal action against Lyft® and Uber®.
With the current state of car insurance rules for rideshare accidents, there likely won’t be as many personal injury lawsuits against rideshare companies, since injured individuals can probably get compensation through the insurance claim process. However, litigation is still possible in certain situations.
Day v. Parra and Uber Technologies, No. 16-005071 CA 02
In 2015, a husband and wife sustained severe injuries after their Uber® driver failed to yield to oncoming traffic, resulting in an accident. The husband broke his leg and the wife suffered from a significant brain injury that resulted in multiple surgeries.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that Uber® failed to properly ensure adequate training and supervision of its drivers. The case ended in 2017, after the parties reached a confidential settlement.
Ang Liang Liu v. Uber Technologies, No. 14-536979
In 2013, an Uber® driver struck and killed a six-year-old girl as she walked through a crosswalk with her family. At the time of the accident, the driver was allegedly logged into the Uber® app, although did not have a passenger.
The family of the girl filed a lawsuit against Uber®, and the case settled for an undisclosed amount in 2016. This case helped motivate rideshare companies to provide insurance coverage for drivers who log into the rideshare app, but are not in the act of transporting a paying passenger.
Learn more about rideshare company liability for passenger injuries after an accident.
When an Uber® or Lyft® passenger alleges that a rideshare driver committed sexual assault, these companies can find themselves on the legal hook.
Turkos v. Lyft, Superior Court of California County of San Francisco, No. CGC-19-579280
In September 2019, the plaintiff filed suit against Lyft® under more than ten legal theories— including common carrier negligence, vicarious liability, and negligent hiring, retention, and supervision—alleging that her Lyft® driver kidnapped her at gunpoint, leading to her sexual assault. The case is currently in the initial stages, with discovery yet to begin.
Hardin v. Lyft, Superior Court of California County of San Francisco, No. CGC-19-578280
In her August 2019 complaint, the plaintiff asserts that in the summer of 2017, a Lyft® driver sexually assaulted her. The plaintiff sets forth multiple legal arguments, including general negligence, vicarious liability for sexual assault, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The case still has a long way to go, as initial documents are still being filed. Lyft® is also arguing that the trial should occur in Virginia and not California, due to the location of evidence and key witnesses.
Doe v. Uber, U.S. District Court Northern District of California, No. 15-cv-04670-SI
Two Jane Does brought this case against Uber® in 2015, claiming Uber® drivers sexually assaulted them. Jane Doe #1 alleged that her driver tried to sexually assault her while he was driving and that after he stopped the vehicle, he continued the assault.
Jane Doe #2 claimed that her driver questioned her ability to pay for her ride and suggested she pay him with a sexual favor. He then drove her to a remote location, where he raped her. The case settled in 2016, but the terms of the settlement remain confidential.
Learn more about rideshare company liability for sexual assault.
Legal issues surrounding cases against rideshare companies are constantly evolving. If you've been injured while riding as a passenger in an Uber® or Lyft® vehicle, get tips on finding the right lawyer for your rideshare passenger injury case.