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Who Takes the Liability in a California Ride-Sharing Car Accident?

california-ride-sharing-car-accidentRide-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are revolutionizing the way we travel. From the convenience of a smartphone, a customer can easily request a ride, receive real-time updates about a driver’s location, and pay with pre-loaded credit card information. The popularity of these companies continues to grow as more people become authorized and as drivers and customers spread the word about how genuinely simple it is to catch a ride.

As is true with all trends, not all of the gossip about ride-sharing has been positive. A recent crash in San Francisco brought safety concerns to the forefront of discussion. On August 2, 2014, an authorized Uber driver lost control of his vehicle when he suffered a seizure. While there were passengers in the car, they were unharmed. The crash did, however, injure a pedestrian. Critics are now questioning the safety of these ride-sharing companies and what their ultimately liability is in the event of a car accident.

Basics: What is Ride-Sharing?

Ride-sharing companies provide transportation alternatives for people who do not want to deal with taxis, public transportation, or the hassle of driving. A person in need of a ride simply opens the application on their smartphone, finds drivers in their area, and summons one of them for a pick up. Uber users can “drop a pin” on their current location, or at the location they wish to be picked up, if different. Some services even quote a guaranteed rate before pick up. The drivers are private citizens with no affiliation to a dispatch company, unlike taxi services. This independence results in lower fares, easy payment, and frequent availability. In a big city, your ride could be less than three minutes away.

Virtually any individual over 21 with a clean driving record and a car in “excellent” condition can become an authorized driver. Industry leader Uber is rumored to only require individuals to watch a video and pass an online test to become a driver. Despite a list of past driving and criminal-related activities that would be prohibitive, past medical conditions that may affect driving are blatantly absent from the criteria. This unsettling fact may have contributed to the San Francisco crash.

What are the Downsides of Ride-Sharing?

While ride-sharing is a convenient, affordable mode of transportation, there are risks associated with being in someone else’s vehicle. Ride-sharing drivers are usually required to carry only personal liability insurance, leaving their unsuspecting passengers a potential mountain of liability in the event of an accident. This is because personal liability insurance, as the name indicates, only covers the holder of the insurance, i.e. the driver. Taxi drivers, on the other hand, carry commercial liability insurance, which extends to passengers in most instances.

This limited-liability model prompted several states, including Colorado, Illinois, and now California, to address the issue. Additionally, authorities in 14 states recently issued warnings about ride-sharing services, urging patrons to use caution before deciding to catch a ride with a ride-sharing company.

Ride Sharing in California

California will now require increased insurance coverage for ride-sharing vehicle drivers. The state legislature nearly unanimously passed “AB2993,” a bill setting minimum liability coverage at all stages of the business transaction: from initial booking when the driver is matched with a passenger all the way through the ride itself.

After negotiating tirelessly with ride-sharing companies, California ultimately decided to require drivers to carry a minimum of $200,000 insurance when driving without passengers, and $1 million once the driver accepts a request or actually picks up the passenger. This is positive news for the passengers, but less thrilling news for the ride-sharing companies. With higher insurance premiums, drivers are rightfully concerned they may need to raise their rates—effectively taking away the competitive edge they currently have against taxi companies.

The good news for passengers is that you can participate in ride-sharing (at least in California) without wondering about your driver’s liability. Note there are still limits on the amount of insurance provided; $1 million is a substantial sum and typical of many personal insurance policies. However, $1 million is not always enough in the event of catastrophic accidents or accidents that require significant rehabilitation or long-term care.

Ride-Sharing Accidents: Preventative Measures

In order to protect yourself, make sure you are familiar with your own insurance policies before stepping in another’s vehicle. Ensure the companies you use are complying with these new regulations, which will go into effect in California on July 1, 2015.

Most companies will allow you to view and select the type of vehicle you wish to pick you up. While most drivers are sporting four door-sedans, making it easier to pick up passengers, do not get into a car you would not drive yourself. In addition, the power of being able to rate drivers according to a five-star system and write reviews can provide powerful information for other patrons. You can choose to develop rapport with certain drivers you travel with regularly or rely on what other people have to say about their driving safety. The best way to deal with accidents is to try to prevent them before they happen.

Despite taking measures to prevent collisions, accidents do happen. As you now know, it is the driver’s insurance that will govern once liability is established. In the event of an accident, be sure to obtain all of the policy information immediately following the collision, in addition to basic information such as the driver’s name, address, phone number, license plate number, and any company affiliate identifying number. Contact your insurance company immediately and inform them about the accident. These new laws will protect you, but you still must take action to ensure you have all of the information you need following an accident.

What if I Was In a San Diego Car Accident?

If you or anyone you know was in an accident in a ride-sharing vehicle, our experienced San Diego car accident lawyers can help you navigate the process. Please contact the knowledgeable San Diego accident attorneys at Martinez & Schill LLP for an initial consultation. Our San Diego car accident lawyers can help you with ride-sharing, taxi, other third-party, or personal car accidents. We are willing to look into your case, regardless of the circumstances. Reach us in San Diego at 619-512-5995 or in Riverside at 951-200-4630.

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