Ridesharing has grown into one of the most popular transportation options, especially in larger cities. And as with any other method of travel, rideshare accidents happen. When an Uber or Lyft vehicle is involved in a traffic accident, rideshare passengers can end up seriously injured, even killed. And a lawsuit stemming from a rideshare accident is often more complex than most car accident cases. If you're thinking of filing a claim over a rideshare vehicle accident, start here to get a sense of the legal landscape, and your options.
1. Get necessary medical treatment. Your health comes first, so at the first sign of any pain or discomfort after the accident, make sure you get proper medical attention as soon as possible. Protecting your potential injury claim comes in at a distant second, but any case you end up making will only be helped if you can show that you sought medical care shortly after the accident.
2. Report the accident. Reporting the accident to law enforcement or to a motor vehicle agency is the responsibility of the drivers involved in the crash, but as a passenger, you'll want to report the accident to the ridesharing company. Lyft and Uber both have special accident reporting processes in place.
A rideshare company representative may contact you to get your perspective of the accident. Especially if you’ve been seriously injured, it might make sense to tell the Uber or Lyft representative that you plan on talking with an attorney, and that you don't want to make any statements just yet. More on getting an attorney's help later in this guide.
3. Gather information about the accident. This includes the names and contact information of everyone involved in the crash, and of any witnesses. You'll also want to take pictures of the accident scene and the license plates of the vehicles involved. Get more tips on gathering evidence after a car accident.
4. Write down everything you can remember about the accident. The sooner you can do this, the better. These notes may become very useful if you have to later explain what happened to an attorney, police officer, or another investigator.
Get more tips on steps to take after a car accident.
This is a legal gray area, and it's evolving pretty quickly. Due to the legal relationship between Lyft/Uber and their drivers, these companies usually do not have legal liability for injuries resulting from a rideshare accident, regardless of who was at fault (financial responsibility is a separate issue).
In order for Uber or Lyft to be legally liable for a passenger’s injuries, there must be primary or “vicarious liability.” Primary liability means the company itself was negligent or otherwise acted in a wrongful way in connection with the accident. Vicarious liability arises when a principal entity (like an employer) can be held legally responsible for the wrongful conduct of one of its agents (such as an employee).
But the application of vicarious liability to companies like Uber and Lyft is not a good fit when a rideshare driver causes an accident. In most states, rideshare drivers are considered independent contractors for the ridesharing companies, not employees.
This distinction makes a huge difference for Uber or Lyft because they not only can avoid legal liability for their driver’s conduct, they can also save a lot of money by paying fewer taxes, providing almost no benefits to drivers, and avoiding the workers' compensation insurance scheme.
That’s the legal side. On the practical side, if you end up getting injured in a rideshare accident, Uber and Lyft will probably still be financially responsible for your injuries. Many states require companies like Uber and Lyft to provide insurance coverage to compensate those harmed in a rideshare accident. How much insurance will depend on when the accident occurs, and whether you were a rideshare passenger or a passenger in another vehicle.
If you were a paying rideshare passenger at the time of the accident, you will get maximum coverage from Lyft or Uber’s car insurance coverage, often up to $1,000,000.
What if you were a passenger in a non-ridesharing vehicle and were in an accident caused by the rideshare driver? How much insurance protection you get from Uber or Lyft’s car insurance depends on the working status of the rideshare driver:
One thing to note is that coverage provided by Uber or Lyft is contingent on the rideshare driver already having a personal car insurance policy. If the rideshare driver was at fault for causing the accident, you would file a claim with the rideshare driver’s personal car insurance company first. But in many instances, no other coverage is available, because without a rideshare endorsement, most personal car insurance policies don't cover accidents that occur while the driver is engaged in commercial activities, like driving for a rideshare company.
The value of any personal injury claim is derived from the extent of the injured person's injuries and other losses (“damages”). Your damages as an injured rideshare passenger typically include several different components:
Lost income plays a role in your claim’s value because your injuries could prevent you from working, or otherwise limit your ability to earn a living. For instance, if your injuries prevented you from working for two months and you were earning $3,000 a month, then the lost income earnings component of your claim will be $6,000.
In theory, past and future medical expenses are straightforward. You can receive financial compensation for medical bills you incurred as a result of the accident. But things can sometimes get complicated when it’s unclear how bad your injuries are. There may also be a dispute over whether some of your medical expenses are the result of the accident or a preexisting injury.
For example, say you had a back injury that existed before getting hurt in the rideshare accident. Then you claim that part of your rideshare accident medical expenses involved treatment for your back. It’s possible that an insurance company will argue that any compensation for medical expenses should not include the back treatment. This is one of many reasons to have the right car accident attorney on your side.
"Pain and suffering" damages are often the least straightforward part of an injury claim. It’s inherently difficult to put a monetary value on these kinds of losses.
Insurance adjusters (and sometimes, courts) use a “multiplier approach” to calculate damages from pain suffering. The multiplier approach works by taking the medical expenses and multiplying the damages by a number between one-and-a-half and four (the multiplier depends on a whole host of factors). So imagine that your medical bills are $4,000 and the appropriate multiplier is three. Your pain and suffering damages will be $12,000 ($4,000 x 3). Learn more about using a multiplier to calculate pain and suffering and how insurance companies value an injury claim.
Probably not, but it will largely depend on the car insurance company’s approach to your claim. If you decide to file a personal injury lawsuit following a rideshare accident, it will probably be because the insurance company (Uber/Lyft's, or the rideshare driver's) isn't making a fair injury settlement offer. Let’s look at a hypothetical to illustrate.
You were seriously hurt in an accident as a rideshare passenger, and your Uber driver was at fault. The rideshare driver’s personal car insurance policy didn’t apply, so you submitted a claim to Uber’s insurance company. You believe your damages total $50,000, but Uber’s insurance company is only willing to pay $20,000. You now have two choices. You can accept the $20,000 and go on with your life, or sue to recover the full $50,000. This is a situation where the gap between the settlement offer and the fair value of your claim is probably too wide to justify accepting a settlement, and it probably makes sense to at least get the lawsuit process started, if only to spur a more reasonable settlement offer.
But in reality, rideshare passenger injury claims rarely lead to lawsuits. Both sides are typically motivate to settle the claim, and both understand that going to court can lead to unpredictable outcomes (not to mention big expenditures of time and money). But in the rare instances where a lawsuit seems necessary, it's time to consider hiring an attorney.
If you think filing a lawsuit will be necessary, or you just want to make sure the rideshare company (or their insurer) is coming to the table with a fair settlement offer, an attorney's help is crucial. There are plenty of lawyers out there with experience representing people who have been injured in a car accident, so many that it can sometimes be challenging to find the best fit.
You can start by finding your local bar association and checking with its attorney referral service. Many city, county, or state bar associations have websites that allow prospective clients to search for local attorneys in certain practice areas. Alternatively, you can call or email the bar association and ask them for a referral.
There are also plenty of websites, like Nolo, that can help you get in touch with a rideshare accident attorney close to you. Nolo has chat and information submission tools that can help you take the first step.
Asking coworkers, friends, or family for a lawyer recommendation is a great way to get the ball rolling. Even if the attorney doesn't have the right experience or can’t take your case, chances are someone in the attorney's network might make a good match.
Once you find a potential attorney to hire, you'll want to ask a few questions.
After you’ve picked an attorney to hire, you'll have your first meeting. It's a good idea to come prepared with relevant documents, including: