These days we think nothing of grabbing an Uber or hopping into a Lyft instead of a cab or driving ourselves. Rideshares have become a cost-effective part of our lives, with easy-to-use apps, cash-free payment, and the ability to leave driver feedback instantly. More than 36% of people used rideshares in 2018, and the two largest companies – Uber and Lyft – reported more than $17.7 billion in net revenue in 2019. Rideshare companies are popular among riders, but these companies raise some unique legal issues because they treat their drivers as contractors and state lawmakers haven’t figured out how to regulate them.
While rideshares are similar to taxi cabs, there are some important differences. Rideshare companies don’t own a fleet of cars. Rather, these companies act more as a platform to allow car owners to operate as a taxi in their private car. Moreover, rideshare platforms don’t fall under the same regulatory and licensing requirements that govern traditional taxi companies, leaving many grey areas concerning legal liability for accidents. Luckily, the New Hampshire legislature stepped into this regulation vacuum, passing legislation in 2016 to pass a law setting statewide rules for ridesharing.
Liability for Car Accidents
Typically, in New Hampshire, if another driver or your driver causes an accident and injures you, you can file a lawsuit against the driver to recover damages for your injuries and property damage. In a lawsuit, you need to show:
- The other driver had a duty to you, the plaintiff,
- The defendant breached that duty, and
- The breach was the result of your injuries.
In New Hampshire, all drivers owe a duty of care to other drivers and their passengers. We all have a duty to drive reasonably, and if we fail to do so and cause an accident, a court can hold us liable for the injuries resulting from that accident. What does driving reasonably mean? It means following traffic laws, following the speed limit, not drinking and driving, not texting while driving, and other legal limits that the state of New Hampshire places on all drivers.
In a rideshare situation, you can still file a lawsuit against the driver. But many of the legal issues become more complicated because they are working for a company like Uber or Lyft.
Car Accident Damages
Under New Hampshire law, an injured driver or passenger is entitled to two types of compensatory damages, economic and non-economic. Economic damages reimburse the injured person for direct financial losses related to the accident. These damages may include costs such as:
- Medical bills,
- Physical therapy costs,
- Future medical costs,
- Lost wages and future lost wages,
- Property damage, including the cost to repair the car or the car’s total value, whichever is lower, and
- Property damage for any personal property lost in the car.
Non-economic damages compensate the injured person for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. If a rideshare driver causes an accident that injures you, either as a passenger or another driver, you may be entitled to recover both economic and non-economic damages. The difficulty is figuring out who should be legally liable for your injuries – the driver, the rideshare company, or both.
Liability of Rideshare Drivers
With a rideshare service, liability isn’t always so cut and dried. It seems common sense that if a rideshare driver hits you, both the driver and its company should be liable for your injuries. However, rideshare companies will often deny that they are liable unless the driver is actively using the app while driving a customer. Under New Hampshire law, rideshare companies may treat drivers as independent contractors as long as they don’t make them work specific hours, assign territories for drivers, or restrict a driver’s ability to work for other platforms. As a result, if a driver isn’t actively logged onto a rideshare company and driving a fare, the rideshare company may claim they have no liability for the driver’s accidents.
At the same time, most personal car insurance does not cover drivers engaged in commercial activities like driving a customer for a fare. This lack of personal insurance can leave a coverage gap and some ambiguity over who you can hold legally liable for your injuries if a rideshare driver hits you.
Insurance Coverage for Rideshare Accidents
Insurance coverage and determining who pays also becomes more complicated for rideshare accidents. Lyft’s disclosures to its New Hampshire drivers even warns them:
- “Depending on its terms, your personal automobile insurance policy may not provide any coverage while you are logged onto the Lyft Platform or engaged in a prearranged ride.
- You must notify your personal insurance carrier that you will be using your vehicle to provide Transportation Network Company services.”
While a rideshare company’s insurance will typically cover accidents that happen while a driver actively uses the app, their policies have limits. In New Hampshire, Lyft’s insurance limits include:
- One million dollars combined single limit coverage for each accident,
- $50,000 in bodily injury per person coverage, and
- $100,000 bodily injury per accident coverage.
Uber’s website details their insurance coverage limits and when they apply, stating:
- If the driver is offline or the driver app is off: “Your chosen personal insurance company and coverages apply.”
- If the driver is logged on and available or waiting for a ride request: Uber maintains third-party liability if the driver’s personal auto insurance doesn’t apply, allowing $50,000 in bodily injury coverage per person, $100,000 in bodily injury coverage per accident, and $25,000 in property damage per accident.
- When the driver is en route to pick up riders and during trips, Uber has $1,000,000 in third-party liability coverage, uninsured and underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage, and contingent comprehensive and collision coverage.
To try and fill insurance coverage gaps, New Hampshire law steps in. The law requires that all rideshare drivers have specific insurance coverage for at least $300,000 per trip and at least $100,000 when actively logged onto a ridesharing app but not engaged in driving a passenger.
Hire an Experienced New Hampshire Personal Injury Attorney
If you’ve been involved in an accident with a rideshare driver, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. At Tenn And Tenn, P.A., our team of New Hampshire car accident lawyers can sort through the legal and insurance complications involved in rideshare accidents. Our experienced group of professionals has helped many New Hampshire families involved in car accidents. Give us a call at (603) 624-3700 or contact us online for a free consultation.