Are Rideshare Companies Responsible for the Negligence of It’s Drivers?
In California, a person driving for Uber or Lyft is no different than the average driver. An Uber or Lyft driver must obey all of the rules of the road, as stated in the California Vehicle Code. A rideshare driver must always drive at a safe speed, maintain a safe distance behind other vehicles, can only change lanes when it is safe to do so, and must otherwise pay careful attention to the road.
In many cases, the rideshare driver drives while distracted. A common cause of distraction is paying attention to the navigation on the cellular phone instead of paying attention to the road. Driving while distracted is one of the leading causes of traffic accidents. Other common causes of collisions include driving at an unsafe speed, following too close, and making dangerous lane changes.
When an Uber or Lyft driver drives carelessly and causes an accident, he or she is responsible for all of the harm and losses his or her passengers suffer. The rideshare company is also responsible for the negligent driving of its drivers. Holding the company liable is particularly crucial because, in most situations, the driver’s insurance is inadequate as compared to the company’s insurance, which can more than cover the harms and losses suffered by the passenger.
Employee v. Independent Contractor
A common defense by rideshare companies is that drivers are not employees, but merely independent contractors. In California, an employer is responsible for the negligent conduct of an employee acting within the course and scope of employment. For example, Suzie works as the secretary for the owner of a company. The owner asks his secretary to deliver a package to a customer. On her way, the secretary runs a red light and hurts a pedestrian. California law holds the owner responsible for the carelessness of his secretary because her wrongful act occurred during her employment. The owner is required to pay damages to the pedestrian.
An independent contractor is a person who provides services for another person, typically under a contract or agreement. Unlike employees, an independent contractor does not regularly work for an employer. For example, a homeowner calls a plumber to fix a broken pipe. The plumber arrives and determines he needs a piece of pipe. He gets in his truck and drives to the hardware store. On the way, he runs a red light and hits a pedestrian. He is not the homeowner’s employee, and the homeowner is not responsible for the plumber’s negligent actions.
Rideshare companies have historically and aggressively taken the position that their drivers are just independent contractors. These companies contend they are nothing more than technology companies that generate leads for drivers. They reject the idea they are, in reality, transportation providers. There are many reasons why companies distance themselves from their drivers. The primary goal is to avoid being held responsible for driver negligence.
The California Public Utilities Commission has dismissed the claim that rideshare drivers are independent contractors. The PUC has concluded that companies like Uber require a license as a transportation provider. Also, California courts have determined that drivers are presumed to be employees because they perform services for the direct benefit of the rideshare company. Courts have found that companies like Uber are deeply involved in marketing their transportation. For example, Uber has represented to the public that it is a transportation company, referring to itself as an “On-Demand Car Service,” and “Everyone’s Private Driver.”
The Courts have also found that Uber, as an example, qualifies and selects its drivers. The company inspects the vehicle a driver uses. Uber regulates and monitors the performance of its drivers. It also disciplines and terminates drivers who fail to meet Uber standards. Unlike independent contractors, Uber sets prices that riders must pay.
Recently, California passed a law that went into effect on January 1, 2020. The law sets forth a rigorous test that is to be used to determine if a worker is an independent contractor or employee. The law makes it more difficult for companies, like Uber, to argue that their drivers are independent contractors.
Finding a knowledgeable and experienced attorney is crucial if you are to succeed against a rideshare company. At MCIS, we know how to prosecute cases successfully against companies like Uber. Schedule a free consultation. No pressure, good results.