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Uber Wants You to Be a Driver. That’s Not Good News for Passenger Safety.

August 19, 2021

Rising vaccination rates have triggered a demand surge for ridesharing services. Since many drivers left the Uber and Lyft platforms in 2020, these companies are now struggling to accommodate the additional riders. But many drivers are unwilling to return. Some cite health and safety concerns while others hold out for better pay.

As a result, there’s a good chance that the Uber driver who picks you up has little experience as a professional driver. Uber has never screened its drivers very closely. To get more drivers on the road, the company might be asking fewer questions than ever. Additionally, and probably more significantly, drivers with little experience operating in a certain part of the city are more dependent on GPS navigation. They drive with one eye on the road and one eye on a screen.

Professional drivers, like Uber drivers, have a dual responsibility in California. They must safely get passengers to their final destination and also use extra caution while driving. If a driver violates either part of this duty, a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer might be able to obtain substantial compensation for the victim.

Driver Responsibility

SInce Uber drivers are common carriers in California, the law holds them to a higher standard. They “must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.”

First, let’s look at the passenger safety duty. This duty begins at the moment a rider picks up a passenger and lasts until the passenger departs. If a driver parks on the opposite side of the street and forces a passenger to cross against traffic, the driver could be at least partially responsible if a car hits the passenger as s/he crosses the street. 

While the passenger is in the back seat, the passenger is essentially the rider’s child, at least for legal purposes. If the passenger becomes ill, the driver has a duty to react properly. Furthermore, if drunk passengers get in a fight, the Uber driver has a duty to break up that argument.

Finally, there’s the dropoff. Drivers cannot drop passengers off in a dark or other unsafe area, even if the passenger requests that drop off point.

As for driving safety. Uber operators must once again adhere to a higher standard. Using a hands-free phone is a good example. Especially if there’s a passenger in the back seat or other distracting element, using such a device is the equivalent of driving drunk. Therefore, if the passenger wants to be dropped off in an unfamiliar area, rather than over-rely on GPS navigation, the driver should probably refuse the fare.

Evidence of Driver Negligence

To obtain compensation, victim/plaintiffs must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.

Device use logs often provide critical evidence in device distraction claims. In the minds of many jurors, there’s a difference between glancing at a device and over-using it. Typically, only device use logs provide such proof.

Attorneys must act quickly to preserve this information. Otherwise, the negligent driver might “accidentally” delete this information. The data is still there, but it’s more expensive and time-consuming to find.

California’s hands-free law might also come into play. If the driver was using a hand-held device, as opposed to a hands-free gadget, this citation could be evidence of negligence. In fact, in many cases, these drivers might be liable for damages as a matter of law.

Third Party Liability

Individual Uber drivers are legally responsible for crashes. Financial responsibility is usually a different matter. That’s good news for victims, since in most cases, the Uber driver’s personal insurance company will refuse to pay commercial claims. Usually, the company must pay damages, if applicable.

The respondeat superior rule generally applies in these cases. Employers are responsible for damages if their employees are negligent during the course and scope of their employment.

These elements almost always apply to Uber drivers. Employee status is a good example. For income tax and wage/hour purposes, Uber drivers are independent contractors. But since the company controls these drivers, they are employees for negligence purposes.

Other employer liability theories, which often apply in assault and other intentional tort claims, include negligent hiring and negligent supervision. Negligent hiring could apply if a driver with a violent criminal record assaults a passenger. Negligent supervision usually means the company failed to take proper disciplinary action after a previous incident.

Uber drivers are more reckless than ever. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, contact the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim. You have a limited amount of time to act.

Photo Source: Viktor Bystrov on Unsplash

Sharona Hakim

Sharona Eslamboly Hakim, Esq. is a successful personal injury attorney and the principal of the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim firm in Beverly Hills, California.

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