Florida residents are likely aware that ride-sharing services provided by companies like Lyft and Uber have become extremely popular in recent years. Many people, however, may not realize that the way these businesses are structured shields them from litigation when their drivers act negligently and cause other road users injury, loss or damage. This is the case because Lyft and Uber drivers are considered to be independent contractors rather than employees, which places a legal barrier before accident victims that can be difficult to overcome.
Uber used the legal distinctions between employees and independent contractors in 2014 when the parents of a 6-year-old girl who was killed by one of their drivers sued the company. The ride-sharing company’s argument was a strong one because the driver involved was not carrying a fare or traveling to pick up a passenger when the girl lost her life. If he had been, the girl’s parents could have filed a claim under an insurance policy that both Lyft and Uber carry that pays out benefits of up to $1 million in liability cases.
While laws in states, including Washington and California, require these liability policies to be in effect throughout a ride-sharing driver’s shift, accident victims in other parts of the country must find an alternative path to compensation when accidents occur while drivers are on duty but off the clock. In these situations, litigation is generally initiated against the driver or his or her automobile insurance provider.
The independent contractor designation does not shield ride-sharing companies from liability when they have acted negligently, and experienced personal injury attorneys may file lawsuits against them when car accidents are caused by drivers with a history of drunk driving or other reckless behavior. When pursuing this kind of litigation, lawyers may seek punitive in addition to compensatory damages as juries may wish to encourage the defendants to adopt more careful hiring practices.