California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a law that could make Uber and Lyft drivers “employees” rather than “independent contractors.” This comes as a result of frequent protests and strikes by rideshare drivers asking for better pay and treatment. The law is significant for several reasons. First, it has obvious ramifications for employment. Rideshare companies would have to provide greater benefits for their drivers. It could also mean drivers would be required to work a certain number of hours or at certain times—similar to taxi drivers. Next, it could mean Uber and Lyft have to lay off some of their drivers to be able to afford paying for additional benefits. That could lead to fewer rideshare cars on the road and an increase in prices for riders.
Turning rideshare drivers into employees could also have an effect on car accidents they are involved in. With more and more people riding in Uber and Lyft cars, more and more of their drivers and cars are out on the road. With that comes a higher likelihood that an accident involves a rideshare driver and/or passenger.
As the law stands now, Uber and Lyft drivers in Georgia are insured by car insurance policies that the companies pay for. Personal car insurance may be available as well. The amount of insurance coverage available for each injured person depends on who is at fault and whether it is a driver or passenger who is injured.
Uber and Lyft themselves are not liable in the event of a crash – the insurance companies who cover someone’s injuries are. After the limits of those insurance policies are reached, many people are out of luck in recovering any excess amount. Reason being, the claim or lawsuit is against the driver—not the company—and once their insurance runs out, they are unlikely to have the personal assets to pay for your injuries like the large corporation they work for does.
Employers aren’t usually liable for independent contractors
In Georgia, an employer is only responsible for the negligent acts or omissions of an independent contractor in limited circumstances. These circumstances include whether the work the employer asks the independent contractor to do is inherently dangerous or is wrongful in itself. Another example is if the wrongful act is the violation of a duty imposed by contract by the employer.
But only one of these factors has any real possibility of making rideshare companies liable for their drivers. That is, if the “employer retains the right to direct or control the time and manner of executing the work or interferes and assumes control” over the contractor, they can be found liable. In other words, if the employer tells the contractor when to work and how to do it, they can be liable for the contractor’s negligent acts.
With Uber and Lyft, drivers are independent contractors who can log onto the app at any time. They can also accept or deny rides that pop up on their app. These facts protect Uber and Lyft from being held responsible when one of their drivers gets into a wreck.
If Uber and Lyft drivers become employees in Georgia, the companies themselves could be held personally liable for their driver’s negligence. This is because Georgia law follows the doctrine of “respondeat superior,” or vicarious liability. It holds that a party is responsible for his or her agents’ negligent conduct. For companies, employers are responsible for their employees if they commit a negligent act in the course and scope of their employment. In the rideshare context, the course and scope of their employment would be to drive on the roads—taking riders to their destinations. If an accident occurs during that time, Uber and Lyft would be liable under a vicarious liability theory.
Accidents involving rideshare drivers can be complicated. That’s why if you are injured in an accident while driving for or riding with Uber or Lyft, you need a lawyer with experience handling these types of claims. At Rafi Law Firm we routinely handle cases for clients who have been seriously injured as a result of an accident with an Uber or Lyft driver. Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our experienced car crash attorneys.