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Is Uber liable if its driver causes a car accident?

Recent tragedy raises questions about liability when car crash occurs while Uber driver ‘on the Uber system,’ between ‘Uber-arranged fares’

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Suppose a driver for Uber, the technology company that matches riders with drivers in a taxi-like fashion, crashes into and seriously injures a mother and her children as they’re lawfully using a crosswalk.

Is Uber liable?

Should Uber be liable?

Those are the questions being asked after a recent tragedy in San Francisco, where a 6-year old girl was killed and her mother and brother were seriously injured when an “Uber-contracted driver” allegedly turned into the crosswalk without yielding and struck the entire family, according to an article by Tech Crunch, “Uber’s Denial of Liability in Girl’s Death Raises Accident Accountability Questions.”

In a blog post by Uber, which is also quoted in the Tech Crunch article, the company stated the following:

“[W]e can confirm that this tragedy did not involve a vehicle or provider doing a trip on the Uber system.”

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Although the driver was “a partner of Uber,” “[t]he driver was not providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident.”

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Uber’s statement raises important questions that must be answered, especially as Uber (which currently provides transportation services in 32 cities in the U.S., including Detroit) and similar taxi-like transportation service companies continue to grow:

  • Does that mean Uber isn’t liable for the injuries caused by its driver?
  • Does the answer change if  the Uber’s driver was “on duty”?
  • What if he was between providing rides to Uber-arranged riders much a like a taxi driver who’s en route to pick up and/or waiting to be hailed by his next fare? Who’s liable then – just the driver, or the driver and Uber?

What is Uber?

Uber is a new Smartphone app that connects passengers with drivers of luxury vehicles for hire. Cars are reserved by sending a text message or by using the mobile app. Using the apps, customers can track their reserved car’s location. The San Francisco-based company arranges pickups in many cities, including Detroit.

Uber launched in Detroit in March 2013 with uber Black, the premium black sedan option, which costs about $54 from Royal Oak to downtown Detroit. In October 2013, Uber launched uberX, the low cost service option, which costs about $33 from Royal Oak to downtown Detroit. In January 2014, UberSUV became available in the Detroit market, can accommodate up to 6 passengers, and costs about $77 from Royal Oak to downtown Detroit.

How does Uber work?

Think of Uber as a matchmaker or “intermediary,” as Uber would say: It brings together people who need a ride with drivers who are willing to provide a ride.

The riders pay the drivers, whom Uber refers to as “Transportation Providers,” and the drivers pay Uber, which provides them with access to Uber’s lead-generating app that allows them to locate and respond to fares who need rides, according to Uber’s October 23, 2013, filing with the California Public Utilities Commission.

As for the vehicles involved, Uber-drivers use their own personal vehicles when providing rides to Uber-arranged fares.

Significantly, Uber states the following about the benefits enjoyed by its drivers:

“For drivers, Uber is a revenue stream, allowing professional drivers to make more money by turning downtime into profits.”

What is Uber’s policy on legal liability if a Uber driver causes a car accident?

Here’s what the “Legal” page on Uber’s website had to say about “Liability”

“The quality of the transportation services requested through the use of the Application or the Service is entirely the responsibility of the Transportation Provider who ultimately provides such transportation services to you.”

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“Uber under no circumstance accepts liability in connection with and/or arising from the transportation services provided by the Transportation Provider or any acts, action, behaviour, conduct, and/or negligence on the part of the Transportation Provider.”

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Notably, Tech Crunch reports the following about Uber’s policy on insurance coverage for its drivers:

“Uber typically requires drivers to buy their own commercial car insurance, and provides an additional $1 million in insurance above and beyond the driver’s.”

Related information:

Designated driver, taxi service numbers – and Uber

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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