In Georgia, injury claims involving ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are increasing. This increase is due to the sheer volume of passengers who are using the apps to hail rides from companies like Lyft, Uber, UberBlack, UberX, and others. In Atlanta, hundreds of drivers who work for these companies transport numerous people throughout the metro area, and many others offer the services in different parts of the state. Ride-hailing services involve drivers who download the app and offer their own vehicles to transport people who log into the app on their smartphones. While the service might seem straightforward, there are some issues that can arise when accidents and injuries occur. Steven M. Sweat, a well-known Uber accident attorney in Los Angeles, explains the various issues that may arise in ride-hailing accident claims below.
Legal liability when passengers are injured in vehicles driven by ride-hailing service drivers
Determining legal liability when accidents involving ride-hailing services injure the passengers can be difficult. Liability in ride-hailing accidents is a subject of multiple cases going through litigation in the Georgia courts.
In 2015, the Georgia legislature passed House Bill 225, which was signed into law and amended the code to add laws governing ride-hailing services. Under Georgia Code § 40-1-193, drivers for ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft are required to obtain for-hire endorsements on their driver’s licenses or to undergo criminal background checks. This law also mandates that the drivers must have insurance provided to them from the ride-hailing service of $300,000 when the drivers are in between picking up passengers and $1 million when they are actively transporting passengers for the ride-hailing apps.
Questions have arisen whether the drivers are employees or independent contractors when they are driving for ride-hailing services. In general, when employees or agents of businesses are at-fault in causing injury accidents, the companies for which they work are liable under a legal principle called respondeat superior. This is a Latin phrase which translates as “let the master answer for the servant.” What it means in the context of personal injury law is that employers are vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees when they are working within the course and scope of their jobs.
However, ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft have argued that the people who drive for them are independent contractors rather than employees. The services have argued that while companies are vicariously liable for the negligent or wrongful actions of their employees, they are not liable for the actions of independent contractors.
Uber and Lyft have also argued that drivers are not acting in the course and scope of their employment at times when they are driving around with the app on but are not actively transporting passengers or driving to pick them up. Plaintiffs are litigating claims and arguing that ride-hailing drivers are employees of Uber, Lyft, or other companies for which they drive. They are also arguing that the drivers are acting in the course and scope of their jobs even when they are driving with the ride-hailing apps turned on and are waiting for fares.
Parties that might be liable in ride-hailing accidents in Georgia
Several parties may be liable when ride-hailing accidents happen. The drivers may hold liability when they cause accidents, but their insurance policies may not have sufficient coverage for the losses that might result. In Georgia, the minimum liability requirements for drivers are $25,000 per person in bodily injury or $50,000 per accident as well as $25,000 in property damage.
Because the state recognizes that these liability limits may be insufficient, it codified the insurance requirements for the ride-hailing services to provide to their drivers. As previously described, different coverage amounts are available, depending on what the drivers are doing at the time of the accident. When they are actively transporting passengers, they must be provided with $1 million in coverage. When they are in between fares, however, the coverage limits are $300,000.
In some cases involving ride-hailing drivers, the other drivers may be liable. When that happens, the other drivers may be named as defendants to resulting injury claims. If other drivers collide with ride-hailing drivers who are transporting passengers, the passengers may try to recover compensation from those drivers’ insurance policies.
In many accidents, both drivers share liability. Georgia is a modified comparative negligence state for automobile accident cases. This means that both drivers could be named as defendants to a lawsuit by an injured passenger, and each driver could be liable to pay the injured passenger according to his or her percentage of the fault. This means that an injured passenger might be able to recover from the ride-hail service driver, the other driver, and the ride-hailing company in some situations.
Insurance and other safety issues with ride-hailing accident claims in Georgia
Ride-hailing drivers must carry at least the minimum liability coverage that is required under Georgia state law. The ride-hailing companies are also required to provide coverage for their drivers with the previously described limits. However, many insurance companies contain exclusions in their standard insurance policies when drivers are using their vehicles to transport other people.
Many insurers in Georgia offer special policies for ride-hailing drivers that do not contain the exclusions. However, not all drivers are aware of these policies, meaning that they might not carry additional coverage.
The law requires the ride-hailing services to make certain that their drivers either have current criminal background checks or for-hire endorsements on their licenses. Under Georgia Code § 40-5-39, people who apply for for-hire endorsements on their licenses must not have been convicted of a felony offense during the prior 10 years or any crimes involving moral turpitude, including a pattern of misdemeanor convictions. Drivers must either have the for-hire endorsement or a private background check that meets similar requirements.
If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident in which an Uber or Lyft driver is partially or completely at fault, disputes will likely arise regarding the ride-hailing company’s liability. Issues will also arise about which insurance policy should be responsible for paying your medical and other expenses.
According to Steven M. Sweat, a renowned Lyft accident attorney in Los Angeles, insurance companies actively exclude driving for ride-hailing services when accidents occur unless the drivers have purchased ride-hailing specific coverage. You might have to prove that the ride-hailing company negligently hired, supervised, or retained the driver to hold the company liable for your injury claim. This might include showing that the company’s background check was insufficient or that it acted negligently in hiring or continuing the employment of a driver that the company either knew or should have known was capable of acting in a wrongful way. This particular issue has arisen in cases in which ride-hailing drivers have assaulted passengers, for example.
Why you should retain an experienced ride-hailing accident lawyer in Georgia
Liability and other issues in ride-hailing injury claims can be complex. This makes it important for you to get help from an injury lawyer who is experienced with handling ride-hailing accident claims. If you wait too long, important evidence may be lost, or you might lose your ability to file a claim. For help in Georgia, contact Apolinsky & Associates to schedule a consultation by calling 404-377-9191.