The family of Jason Lynn Williams has filed a lawsuit against the driver of a Lyft vehicle and Lyft itself after Williams died in a car accident inside a Lyft vehicle. The lawsuit, which was filed in Charleston County, SC, is believed to be the first wrongful death lawsuit against Lyft in the area. That being said, rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have faced hundreds of lawsuits based on the conduct and negligence of their drivers.
According to the suit, the driver had just finished a shift at a local pub when she turned her app on announcing to riders that she was available for rides. She accepted a ride from Williams who was asking to be picked up from a restaurant. According to the accident report, the driver proceeded to make a left turn across multiple lanes of traffic at a busy intersection. The ensuing accident caused Williams significant injuries and eventually resulted in his death.
Family Alleges “Gross Negligence”
The lawsuit filed against both the driver and Lyft alleges that the driver is guilty of “gross negligence” for making an illegal and dangerous turn that resulted in William’s death. As an attorney, when you hear the term “gross negligence” you automatically think “punitive damages.”
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are awarded to a plaintiff when a defendant’s conduct is so egregious that it warrants them being punished for allowing it to happen. While an exact figure wasn’t mentioned in the article, a wrongful death settlement of this nature can go into seven figures, sometimes as many as eight.
While the driver of the vehicle was not charged with any criminal misconduct, it still remains unclear why she attempted to make such a dangerous turn.
Can Lyft or Uber Be Held Liable for the Conduct of Their Drivers?
Lyft and Uber drivers are insured against a company policy that was itself the result of litigation and legislation that forced these companies to furnish their drivers with policies. Prior, drivers were only insured on their own personal insurance policies leading to a series of lawsuits against the company.
Lyft and Uber insurance policies are much larger than those required by the states as minimum liability policies, but they only kick in once a driver has accepted a ride and they turn off once the driver has dropped off their fare. This leads to considerable confusion in litigating such cases. On the other hand, it’s a better system than what was there before.
Are Uber or Lyft Drivers Employees or Contractors?
More confusion surrounds the question of whether or not an Uber or Lyft driver is considered an independent contractor or an employee. While some states have moved to make Uber and Lyft drivers employees, don’t expect Georgia to jump on board any time soon. A heavily red state tends to protect the liabilities of its businesses against potential tort lawsuits such as these. In Georgia, Lyft and Uber employees are still considered contractors.
The distinction is important because employers are responsible for the conduct of their employees when they are on the job. For instance, a trucking company would be responsible for a driver who caused an accident while they were on delivery. However, if a company pays a freelance trucker to deliver such and such goods, they would not be liable if the driver caused an accident because the driver is not their employee.
Under that legal theory, it’s apparent that Uber and Lyft cannot be held liable for the conduct of their contractors unless it can be proven that they committed some form of negligence.
Proving Negligence Against Lyft or Uber
Since the accident happened during a fare, the victim is entitled to file a claim against Lyft’s $1 million accident policy. However, they are also alleging that the defendant was grossly negligent and attempting to go after punitive damages. While this might be very easy to do in the case of the driver, the driver is unlikely to have sufficient assets against which to file a claim. In other words, a successful lawsuit must target Lyft directly in this matter. The obvious question is then: Was Lyft grossly negligent and, if they were, how were they grossly negligent? In other words, is Lyft vicariously liable for the gross negligence of their driver?
Maybe, but not necessarily. There have been a number of claims against Uber and Lyft that allege that the rideshare app is, in and of itself, dangerous and leads to accidents. For instance, let’s say a driver is punished for arriving late to a destination. If that’s the case, then the plaintiff in an accident can sue that the service inevitably leads to accidents because drivers are punished for driving slowly, safely, or getting to their destination outside of a minimum window. Of course, this is an allegation that is made directly against the rideshare company and not the driver specifically.
Another potential argument is that Lyft or Uber did not adequately monitor their drivers in the process of hiring them. Even though Uber and Lyft drivers are considered independent contractors doesn’t mean that rideshare companies can hire, for instance, someone without a license or someone with a poor driving record because they are facilitating a condition that puts the public at risk.
In other words, the doctrine of vicarious liability may not apply to Uber or Lyft drivers in the State of Georgia, but that doesn’t mean that they’re absolved of any wrongdoing and can wash their hands of the situation merely because an independent contractor caused the accident. Both companies must vet their drivers and are expected to conduct background checks.
Nonetheless, the family of the victim mentioned above will need to prove that Lyft was negligent in order to receive payment above the $1 million insurance policy.
Talk to an Acworth, Georgia Car Accident Attorney Today
If you’ve been involved in an accident with a Lyft or Uber driver, the Roger Ghai Law Offices can help you recover damages related to your injuries. Talk to us today for a free consultation.