By: Roger D. Horgan
Have you stopped to wonder what will happen if the Uber driver has an accident either while you are in the vehicle, or if he strikes your vehicle? Like any new technology, ridesharing applications like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar have created novel legal issues. First are the questions concerning legal responsibility and insurance coverage when accidents occur. Fundamentally, these are privately owned vehicles driven by individuals, not taxi’s owned by a company and driven by an employee of that company. In the case of a taxi accident, the taxi company is responsible for the negligence of its drivers under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The ridesharing companies contend that they are simply computer applications which bring independent drivers together with those who are seeking transportation. They contend that the drivers are independent contractors, not employees, and therefore claim that they are not responsible to answer for the conduct of the drivers.
While all drivers are supposed to have automobile insurance in Pennsylvania, the reality is that many people drive without insurance, and that many more carry the minimum liability coverage required by law ($15,000.00). Those utilizing the ridesharing services, and those injured by the drivers of those services, are at significant risk that the driver lacks any insurance, or adequate insurance. In reality, the likelihood is that the driver would lack any insurance because his insurance company will refuse to answer for acts that take place during the course of driving for the ridesharing service.
Luckily, these concerns are being taken seriously in Pennsylvania, and there is legislation pending that is intended to address the complexities that arise from the use of ridesharing services. Among the groups that have had a significant influence upon the contents of this proposed legislation is the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, of which the lawyers of this firm are members. There is a high likelihood that the proposed legislation will be passed in one form or another, and that it will address the ridesharing issues in a comprehensive fashion. While the personal insurance coverage of the passenger or other victim will remain critically important, this legislation, if adopted, will eliminate the gaps in coverage that currently exist, and will continue to exist if legislation is not adopted.
Currently before the Pennsylvania Senate is Senate Bill 984. This legislation proposes to fix some of the issues encountered in an accident with a rideshare company. The ridesharing company must be registered and licensed in the Commonwealth. There is a one-time application fee of $50,000.00 to obtain such a license. The company will be required to keep accurate records, and to maintain a website available for Pennsylvania customers to review. They will be required to maintain liability insurance in excess of that required by individuals in the Commonwealth. In particular, once the driver signs on to the ridesharing app he will be covered by insurance for bodily injury in the amount of $50,000.00 per person/$100,000.00 per accident. In addition, he will be covered by $25,000.00 for property damage. Once the driver actually picks up the passenger he will be covered by $500,000.00 per accident for bodily injury, and $25,000.00 in medical coverage for the passengers. Further provisions of Bill 984 assure the safety of the vehicles being used for this service, that the drivers have their criminal and driving backgrounds thoroughly vetted, and that unsafe vehicles and drivers be prohibited from driving for the ridesharing companies. There will be a zero tolerance rule for drugs and alcohol. There will be a nondiscrimination provision with respect to disabled persons. The drivers will be permitted to obtain fares only through the ridesharing app, and will be prohibited from direct solicitation, and from accepting cash payment for rides.
There is no doubt that the ridesharing services are here to stay, and Pennsylvanians will be well served if Bill 984 or similar legislation is adopted and becomes the law.