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After a New York Uber Accident Causes Serious Injuries, Can Uber be Liable? What about Lyft or Rideshare?

New York Uber accidents have led journalists, bloggers, and attorneys to question the app’s safety and the ride share company’s responsibility for serious accidents.  In January of 2015, an Uber driver was heading to pick up customers when he drove into pedestrian Wesley Mensing and Erin Sauchelli on East 62nd Street and Lexington Avenue.  Mensing was killed and Sauchelli was hospitalized.  Wesley Mensing was 27 years old, from Scotch Plains.  In May of 2015, an Uber-affiliated driver struck and killed Ervi Secundino, a 12 year old child, on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 150th Street near the Frederick Douglass Academy. He attended the nearby middle school.

Traffic accidents are a leading cause of death and injury in New York. According to the New York Department of health, on average, vehicle accidents killed about 1,400 New Yorkers every year up to 2009. Traffic accidents hospitalize approximately 15,435 New Yorkers every year. 146,337 people visit New York emergency rooms after car accidents every year.  New York has the worst record in the nation for pedestrian fatalities and 60% of pedestrian accidents happen in downstate New York.

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Source: New York State FFY 2014 Highway Safety Annual Report

Who Can be Held Responsible After a New York Uber Accident?

In any New York car or taxi accident, drivers may be liable if they seriously hurt someone. The bigger question is whether Uber, Lyft, or any company like it, can be liable after a serious New York Uber accident.  Some ride-sharing companies are more prepared to take responsibility for their drivers’ accidents.  A company’s decision whether to take responsibility for accidents profoundly affects victims.  In 2014, in San Francisco, an Uber driver failed to yield to pedestrians.  He struck and killed a child.  Uber, through its lawyers, refused to take responsibility for the accident, saying the driver was an “independent contractor” and the company “did not cause this tragic accident.”

Some states legislate greater protections for the public safety. For example, California passed laws requiring ride-share companies to provide additional insurance to supplement the driver’s insurance in the event of a serious accident. New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates yellow taxis, suggested new rules to regulate ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft.  In June of 2015, the NYC TLC released new rules that regulate ride-share programs.  Some of the rules concern safety and are intended to reduce New York Uber accident rates.  Among other requirements, the new NYC TLC rules:

  1. Inform passengers complaining about drivers that only TLC can revoke or suspend a driver’s license;

  2. Ensure that driver-facing interfaces operate via one touch or voice activation while the vehicle is in motion;

  3. Provide an option to request an accessible vehicle;

  4. Collect and submit trip data;

  5. Provide passengers with the vehicle, driver, and affiliated base license number;

  6. File passenger data privacy and security policies with the TLC and follow New York State and federal laws for notification in the case of a data breach.

Are Uber Drivers Employees or Independent Contractors After a New York Uber Accident?

Not every driver on the road in a company car, van or truck is an “employee” of that company. In fact, the driver may not be an employee at all, but an “independent contractor.”  What difference does it make whether a driver is an “employee” and an “independent contractor”?

One important difference centers on a company’s legal liability and an accident victim’s compensation.  Usually, a company must pay for accidents its employees cause while on the job. A company is not usually responsible for accidents caused by independent contractors.

People and companies engage in legal battles and corporate machinations over whether the law classifies a person as an “employee” or “independent contractor”.  A company is more responsible for its employees than for independent contractors. Employees are more costly and expose a company to more liability. They also have more rights. Independent contractors have fewer rights and the company has a stronger argument to avoid liability when a contractor causes a serious accident or injury.

In the case of a New York Uber accident, if the driver is an Uber employee, then a billion dollar company (Uber) could be liable for your damages. If the driver is an independent contractor, an injured plaintiff is stuck with that driver’s assets and liability insurance limits ($25,000 minimum in New York for private cars and $100,000 for taxis). Although Uber and Lyft claim to insure their drivers in addition to their own private insurance, whether that insurance applies will depend on the insurance policies’ language and the nature of the accident.

Whether a driver is an employee or independent contractor and the required insurance limits are complex questions that your attorney will handle personally in each individual case. The personal injury attorney’s job is to help you get full relief after a New York Uber accident.