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.
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. (Day v. Parra and Uber Technologies, No. 16-005071 CA 02)
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. (Ang Liang Liu v. Uber Technologies, No. 14-536979)
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.
December 2020: "Mass Tort" Claims Over Lyft Driver Misconduct
Dozens of women have filed lawsuits against Lyft over sexual assault and other instances of misconduct committed by individuals driving for the rideshare company's app-based service. The plaintiffs claim that Lyft doesn't do enough to screen its drivers, and fails to properly protect female passengers. The first of these lawsuits "claim the company knows it has a 'sexual predator crisis' but has declined to implement 'obvious and straightforward safety procedures'," according to the San Jose Mercury News, which reports that "lawyers for the plaintiffs plan to add hundreds more alleged victims" to this "mass tort" action.
September 2019: Passenger Claims Kidnapping, Sexual Assault by Lyft Driver
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.
August 2019: Lyft Sued Over Sexual Assault
A female 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.
2015: Federal Lawsuit Against Uber
Two Jane Does brought a 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 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.