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Hit by a ride-sharing car? Who pays the bills?

The controversial Uber and Lyft have arrived in Western New York, but the wrinkles are still being ironed out. One of the wrinkles is who pays if a ride-sharing car is in an accident and the passenger is injured? Or a pedestrian is injured?

“Since the drivers are not employees of Uber or Lyft — they are independent contractors — the laws are not the same as if you were being driven by a taxi,” said Brian D. Knauth, attorney. “If you were in a taxi, you would simply sue the company. But with a ride-sharing company, and if your driver was at fault, you would bring a claim or suit against the individual driver.”

The question then is: Will the driver carry sufficient insurance or will the driver only carry the minimum required in New York – $25,000.00.
Fortunately, as part of the new law allowing ride-sharing companies to operate, the companies are required to carry liability insurance to cover the drivers from the moment the driver accepts a pre-arranged trip, through the pickup of the rider, and through to the completion of the trip. Uber/Lyft provide insurance for its drivers with at least $1million of liability coverage. This policy goes first, and not the driver’s personal insurance. If your driver is at fault, you would still sue or bring a claim against the driver but Uber and Lyft’s policy would cover the accident. This coverage would likewise apply if the driver strikes a pedestrian, or injures someone in another vehicle.

What about my medical bills and lost earnings? While you are a passenger – no matter whether your driver is at fault or the driver of another vehicle – Uber/Lyft provide no-fault insurance coverage for medical and lost wages up to $50,000.00. This insurance would also cover the injured pedestrian.

There’s a detailed protocol for these lawsuits, so you might want to put a note in your phone:

  • First, call 911.
  • Next, take photos of the vehicles involved.
  • Get the names, email addresses and phone numbers of witnesses.
  • Write down the name of your driver.
  • Take screen shots of your ride and the receipt on your phone.
  • Hire a lawyer.

“The lawyer should immediately send ‘preservation of evidence’ letters (also called ‘spoliation’ letters) to Uber/Lyft and the driver,” Knauth said. “This will make sure they keep all of the data related to your ride.”

If the accident is not the fault of the ride-share driver, then you would bring a claim against the other driver and the driver’s car insurance company. If the other driver doesn’t have enough liability insurance to cover the claim for injuries and pain and suffering (many people ride around with minimum insurance coverage), then Uber/Lyft’s underinsured coverage would come into play. Uber/Lyft carry at least $1 million in coverage. This insurance would also kick in if the other driver did not have any insurance.

“It’s a little cloudier if the accident happens when the ride-share driver is between rides but on-duty or when the driver is off-duty or not logged into the app. When drivers are logged in, Uber/Lyft may provide insurance coverage greater than the minimal amount required by New York. While a driver is off-duty, you would make a claim under the driver’s personal insurance,” Knauth said.

Though there may be questions, Western New Yorkers have embraced the ride-share concept without a lot of worries about liability.