Maximize Your North Carolina Uber or Lyft Car Accident Recovery
As more people download their apps, Uber and Lyft ridesharing become more and more popular. What started in the thousands has now skyrocketed into the millions of riders who prefer Uber or Lyft to the traditional taxi or plea for a free ride from family or friends. The new popularity seems to be a combination of bargain, convenience, rapid-service and “tech hipness”, because passengers in North Carolina are ridesharing more than ever before.
However, in modern times, rarely is anything simple and ride sharing with an Uber or Lyft driver is no exception. It’s not caveat emptor – buyers beware – but it is “Rider Be Aware!” And if you suffer a serious injury while ride sharing as a passenger in either an Uber or Lyft vehicle, there are things you need to do, beginning with retention of experienced personal injury attorney who understands the complicated ins and outs of North Carolina insurance coverage. Use of a personal auto for ride-sharing is a violation of the North Carolina form auto policy, and coverage is specifically excluded under the personal auto policy while a driver is carrying passengers or property for a fee. Fortunately, Uber and Lyft have finally helped their drivers by providing backstop coverage that provides both liability coverage and under insured motorist coverage to protect ride-share passengers and outside drivers who are struck by an Uber or Lyft operator.
Fault of another Driver:
Let’s start with some common enough situations, where you or a loved one suffers a serious personal injury while riding in an Uber or Lyft, but the accident is caused by another driver. The circumstances are infinite, but suppose another driver rear-ends your Uber vehicle, blows a red light, or runs a stop sign, resulting in serious injury to you, the innocent passenger just trying to get from here to there.
Like any other accident, to the extent you are able, you need to determine the details of the accident and identify all errors made by the careless driver. Take down or photograph with your smart phone the other driver’s license, insurance information, make, model and vehicle license plate number; get the same details for your own Uber or Lyft driver; and of course get the details of any law enforcement or emergency vehicles responding to the scene.
Circumstances allowing, it is always wise to take photographs and video of the accident scene, or even ask a bystander to do so (and to message their details and information to you). Keep in mind, this is the era when everyone is an amateur sleuth, and the treasure trove of evidence available from total strangers can sometimes be truly extraordinary. Avoid offering personal commentary when recording video, and be aware also that insurance carriers often use this footage to suggest that the victim was not seriously hurt and/or that the victim is building a case for financial reasons and not because they were truly injured. Keep your coverage as objective as possible. Also, do not seek to record video if you are meaningfully hurt – this would appear appropriate if the case later proceeds through a jury trial.
Once you are stabilized and your personal medical care is attended to, all of this data should be given to an experienced personal injury lawyer, such as those at the Nagle & Associates, where a powerful settlement demand can be made on your behalf against the responsible third party and their insurance carrier.
Fault of Your Uber or Lyft Driver:
Of course, oftentimes your Uber or Lyft driver is at fault for the accident and your injuries – singly or in combination with the fault of the other driver or causative condition. As a passenger attending to your own business, you may not have been in a position to see what happened and, even if you were, as a lay person (non-lawyer) you are not sufficiently informed to adequately assess or allocate legal fault. The myriad of situations in which accidents occur, makes that impossible.
In fact, the standard of care for Uber and Lyft drivers is currently in a period of evolution, just as the taxicab industry was in its early years before regulation. We’ve all read about the bizarre situations where unregulated Uber drivers have done crazy things, separate and apart from the normal auto accident. If you Google “Uber horror stories,” you will find several amazing and bizarre stories about passengers who were choked, victimized by racist rants, or event attacked. While we wouldn’t classify these as auto accidents, there sometimes is a crossover. If a ride-share driver is involved in a road-rage incident, they owe you and so does their employer.
No matter what happens, as a practical matter, you’re Uber or Lyft app provides you with access to your driver’s details, as these are provided to you when ordering a ride. However, it is always wise to obtain from the cooperative driver the same information you obtain from any potentially careless driver, especially the full extent of his or her personal auto or special ridesharing insurance, if any. It is entirely appropriate to ask for a copy of the driver’s license, and the Police will certainly secure this information at the scene and include it in the DMV-349 NC Collision Investigation Report.
Claims Made on Your Rideshare Driver’s Auto Insurance Policy:
Claims against an Uber or Lyft driver’s personal auto policy are tricky. Generally speaking, the business or commercial use exclusion of the Uber or Lyft driver’s personal auto policy eliminates all insurance coverage for injuries sustained by ridesharing passengers, the moment they hit the road with the app turned on. However, Uber’s commercial insurance policy now provides $1.5 million of liability insurance that covers passengers injured during a ridesharing trip. This is a policy that – when invoked - supersedes the Uber driver’s personal auto policy, thus simplifying what was formerly a very complicated insurance policy entanglement. Lyft also has a similar insurance policy with high levels of coverage for ride-share passengers, even when the ride-share driver was not at fault for the collision. Further, in cases where the Uber/Lyft ride-share driver AND another outside driver both commit driving errors which lead to causing your accident, North Carolina’s law of “joint and several liability” allows the innocent guest passenger to collect personal injury compensation from both drivers’ insurance policies.
Uninsured and Underinsured Automobile Claims:
Accidents occasionally occur where a ride-share Uber or Lyft vehicle is hit by a careless driver who either has no insurance coverage, or who has insufficient coverage to fully cover your medical expenses, lost wages and cash claims for pain and suffering. If the at-fault driver has no insurance or if the at-fault driver hits the Uber/Lyft vehicle and then flees the scene and avoids detection, your claims will be covered by Uber’s or Lyft’s uninsured motorist coverage. You still must be very careful when dealing with the claims adjuster in these cases. Former claims adjuster Carl Nagle notes that in an uninsured motorist case, the insurance company defends the at-fault/uninsured/hit & run driver. In fact, if the case cannot be settled privately and you have to go through a jury trial, Uber or Lyft will hire the lawyer to defend the at-fault driver and pay that lawyer to oppose your claims at trial. If the at-fault driver has insurance but the coverage is insufficient to cover your claims, you can collect additional benefits through the underinsured motorist coverage that covers your ride-share driver. These policies currently provide $1 million in bodily injury coverage -- to the extent the other driver is without adequate insurance. Carl Nagle and his legal team at Nagle & Associates have handled a large number of personal injury claims for passengers of Uber and Lyft, and we know exactly how to access this coverage and maximize our clients’ claim payments.
Filing Suit Directly Against Uber or Lyft:
If the insurance adjusters do not offer full and fair value for all of your personal injury claims, the case should not be settled. Typically if we push hard, build and present compelling evidence, and make a strong and valid threat that we will win your case at trial, insurance adjuster ultimately will give-in and offer a fair settlement. However, if your personal injury claim is not resolved through the insurance claim process, you will need to file a personal injury lawsuit against all responsible drivers, including the Uber or Lyft driver. Just like you sue the employer if another driver causes the accident in the course and scope of his or her employment, you will also name Uber or Lyft directly in the Summons and Complaint that begins the litigation process. You should understand at the outset that both companies have gone to great lengths to protect against any legal liability on this front. They do this by keeping their drivers as arm’s length, working as independent contractors. And since drivers are independent contractors, generally speaking, Uber and Lyft are not directly responsible for the negligent acts of their drivers. However, they are at times on the hook and they have also made sure that their insurance coverage follows their ride-share drivers, even if the driver is acting as an independent contractor at the time of your collision.
As ridesharing increases, the insurance coverage’s provided by Uber and Lyft are constantly changing. If you or a loved one suffer a serious injury as a passenger in either, you are wise to retain experienced personal injury counsel to evaluate and present your claim. We at Nagle & Associates would be proud to be your choice.