Who is at fault for a California rideshare accident?

The rise of the ridesharing industry dramatically changed the individual transportation landscape. Before Uber and Lyft came to be, urban mobility was only a dual choice between hailing a taxi or owning a private vehicle.

The California Public Utilities Commission refers to ridesharing companies as transportation network companies. They connect drivers to passengers in need of pre-arranged transportation services through online applications.

But as with any road tragedy, ridesharing accidents can also injure, or even cause the death of, the Uber or Lyft driver and their passengers, the other vehicle’s driver and passengers, and other pedestrians. With the possible involvement of multiple parties, who is at fault?

Insurance requirements

If the other vehicle’s driver is at fault, the Uber or Lyft driver may collect damages from them. But suppose the Uber or Lyft driver is the liable party. In that case, California law requires them to have insurance coverage worth $15,000 for death and injury per person and $30,000 if more than one person, and $5,000 for property damage.

Also, the state mandates additional insurance provided by companies. But their application depends on the online application’s status when the accident happened. The insurance requirements of Transportation Network Companies are as follows:

  • Period 1: Open application and waiting for a passenger match
    • $50,000 for death and injury per individual
    • $100,000 for death and injury per incident
    • $30,000 for property damage
  • Period 2: Match accepted and on the way to pick up the passenger
    • Primary commercial insurance worth one million dollars for death and injury
  • Period 3: Passenger is already in the vehicle and until their exit
    • Primary commercial insurance worth one million dollars for death and injury
    • Additional one million dollars for death and injury for un- or underinsured motorists

California courts generally consider rideshare drivers as independent contractors, which means Uber and Lyft may not be liable for the accident. But under state law, an Uber or Lyft driver’s company insurance still covers them during work hours despite their independent status.

On the other hand, if the Uber or Lyft driver is an employee, “respondeat superior” applies. This rule means employers are liable for their employee’s negligence while performing work-related tasks.

If you are an Uber or Lyft passenger, you may recover damages from either the at-fault driver of the other vehicle or from your at-fault Uber or Lyft driver, but not necessarily the companies.

Case-to-case basis

With a host of scenarios and insurance companies in the mix, this kind of accident can be a legal mess. You may face daunting paperwork, emotional distress and financial needs. In the end, you may still be at a loss for who to sue for damages. It will help to form a team who can work with you on a legal course of action that aims to protect your rights and future on the road.

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