Injured Passenger Claims Relating to Rideshare Services Like Uber

Injured Passenger Claims Relating to Rideshare Services in California

Motor vehicle accidents often result in injuries not just to drivers, but also to associated parties. Specifically, such accidents may result in injuries to passengers riding in any of the vehicles involved. In California, as with most other states, passengers injured in a motor vehicle accidents are placed in a unique position with respect to the accident at-hand and may therefore have to file different claims. The legal position of injured passengers is further complicated when rideshare services are involved (i.e., Uber, Lyft, etc.).

Thus, the primary question for many plaintiff-passengers is: if you are a passenger injured while using a rideshare service in the state of California, what personal injury claims are you entitled to assert?

This may all be a bit confusing at first glance, but it's all rather simple when broken down into component parts. To understand, let's first go over passenger personal injury claims generally, then rideshare services and the legal issues uniquely applicable to such circumstances.

Filing a Claim Against the Driver of Your Vehicle

If you are a passenger injured in a motor vehicle accident, you likely have a claim against one or more of the involved third-parties, and possibly against the driver of your own vehicle as well.

Suppose that you are a passenger in a vehicle and another vehicle comes speeding from the periphery. The speeding vehicle collides with yours and causes serious injuries to you. Who can you file an injury claim against? Fundamentally, your claim will depend on who is at fault.

California applies pure comparative negligence. Under pure comparative negligence, each faulty party is assigned a percentage of the total fault for their contribution to the accident. So in the above example, the speeding driver may be assigned most of the fault (80%), but the driver of the passenger's vehicle may be assigned the remaining fault (20%). Though the speeding driver was negligent in speeding, the driver of the passenger's vehicle could be at fault somewhat for failing to respond quickly enough to the danger presented by the speeding vehicle.

Applying pure comparative negligence to the above example, you - the passenger - would be entitled to assert an injury claim not only against the speeding third-party driver, but also your own driver. If you succeed in your injury claims, you would be entitled to recover 80% of your personal injury damages from the third-party speeding driver, and 20% of your personal injury damages from your own driver.

Filing a Claim as a Rideshare Passenger

As a passenger, filing an injury claim against your own driver is fairly standard procedure (though of course, many personal injury plaintiffs forgo lawsuits against their relatives or friends, to avoid the breakdown of a relationship) and is well-justified. In many cases, the driver can be held responsible - at least in part - for the injuries sustained by the plaintiff-passenger.

Drivers can be held liable for their passengers' injuries on grounds of negligence. Under pervading California negligence theory, drivers owe a duty of reasonable care to their passengers. This duty of care is essentially a duty owed by the driver to conduct themselves in such a way as to reasonably secure the safety of their passengers.

For a closer look at negligence claims in California and the duty of care generally, please read our article here.

A driver's failure to meet their duty of care may result in an accident and subsequent injuries to their passenger(s). If this happens, then the passenger is entitled to assert a personal injury claim.

A personal injury claim against one driver is not necessarily subject to the same standards as a personal injury claim against another driver. The status of the driver may drastically alter the duty of care standards. Regular drivers - for example, a friend, family member, or some other non-professional driver - are subject to the standard duty of care. Commercial drivers, by contrast, are subject to a heightened duty of care to their passengers. In California, the laws governing commercial driver duty of care are referred to as Common Carrier law.

Under Common Carrier law, a commercial driver (i.e., a taxi, or bus driver) who is carrying passengers for may be liable for injuries in circumstances where a non-commercial driver would not be held liable. For example, a commercial driver's failure to quickly react to and avoid another negligent driver (thereby resulting in an accident) would likely constitute a violation of the duty of care, whereas a non-commercial driver might not be held liable for the same mistake.

Rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft avoided lawsuits for years by cleverly separating themselves and their drivers from the reach of existing regulation. Drivers for most rideshare services are typically independent contractors, not employees. Rideshare service companies long argued that this contractor relationship - in combination with other unique factors - meant that they were not a Common Carrier and their drivers were therefore not to be held to the heightened duty of care standard of Common Carriers. For years, rideshare service companies also avoided provision of liability coverage to handle the personal injury claims of passengers.

Fortunately for plaintiff-passengers, the world of rideshare services has changed quite a bit. Rideshare companies are now required by law in the state of California to provide at least $1M in liability coverage. Passengers may therefore sue and potentially recover their damages from a significant insurance pool.

Whether rideshare services and their drivers are Common Carriers is a question that has yet to be answered consistently, though more recent case law seems to be moving towards the assumption that they are indeed Common Carriers (with a heightened duty of care). Because the case law has yet to establish a consistent precedent, however, this is still a matter that will require intense and persuasive argument by your personal injury attorney.

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For a free consultation with a personal injury attorney who has experience necessary to handle cases involving rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft, call the Law Offices of Brian O' Grady at (650) 318-6131 to set up your appointment today.