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The Complexities of Rideshare Accidents

Rideshare accidents can impact pedestrians, drivers, and passengers. How the law applies to each group can vary, and quickly become complex in an evolving legal context for the gig economy.

Drivers

Most states consider rideshare drivers independent contractors. But the movement to classify them as employees is gaining traction in states like California. California's state law, Assembly Bill 5, applies to companies that control how workers perform tasks, or if that work is a routine part of the company's business. When one of those instances occurs, a company must treat a worker's status as that of an employee instead of an independent contractor. While gig companies like Uber and Lyft argue they are technology companies, they would likely need to prove that their business model does not require drivers, or that they assert no control over a driver's performance.

The law affects areas such as minimum wage, payroll tax, and other employment benefits. For example, in instances where drivers are injured on the job, a rideshare driver could file a workers' compensation claim against the company when considered employees rather than independent contractors. If states like Illinois follow suit, gig workers that are considered employees will then be entitled to permanent disability benefits if a rideshare accident causes them to become totally permanently disabled.

The pressures around how rideshare drivers are protected from harm have only heightened in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, placing drivers at dangerously close distances with their passengers. The exposure risk to drivers is unpredictable and high, especially when rideshare drivers are utilized by passengers who would otherwise use now-closed public transit options, are returning from travel, or leaving the hospital. However, rideshare drivers are able to deny rides to passengers not following community guidelines, which offers up some protections to their safety.

Passengers

When passengers are injured in rideshare accidents, they are able to pursue compensation for damages from the driver responsible for the accident and/or the rideshare company, depending on state laws and the circumstances of the accident. If properly insured, one or more of the involved parties' insurance company provides payment for losses brought in a personal injury lawsuit. Because car accidents involved rideshare services add layers of complexity around insurance and liability, it can take longer to be awarded compensation, which can be helped by passengers securing solid legal representation.

Another reason for passengers to ensure they have the right legal counsel after a rideshare accident comes with the secrecy of the rideshare service industry. Rideshare companies' demands for confidentiality can result in cloudy or misleading safety records in the midst of these lawsuits, especially when accusing companies of poorly trained or dangerous drivers, as well as distractions by the rideshare apps. Some state regulators, such as in California, provide loopholes that allow rideshare services to block the release of personal injury and safety data to the public. These practices can provide barriers for injured passengers as they attempt to identify the driver responsible for their accident or injury.

Pedestrians

Pedestrians and bikers likely carry the most risk of harm around drivers. While many cities are working hard to lower the number of traffic deaths, the consequences for a driver responsible for a crash usually aren't serious unless they were drunk or fled the scene. As a result, many driver behaviors increase the likelihood of an accident. Pedestrians tend to have low survivability rates even when struck by vehicles at lower speeds. Further cause for concern comes from consistent findings emerging from several studies conducted on driver yielding behaviors, which show that a pedestrian's chances of being struck can depend on their gender and socioeconomic status.


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