Ridesharing in South Florida Raises Tricky Questions

Thanks to Uber and Lyft, “ridesharing” has recently become a hot topic. Often likened to a trendier version of the 1970s notion of carpooling, the reality is that these services are more like “ride-hailing.” Rides are requested using an app and accepted by ordinary drivers who use their own vehicles. These freelance drivers don’t have the same destination as their passengers, but, rather, look for another paying fare after dropping the passengers off – much like a taxi. The entire transaction is handled in the app, and there is a ratings system for both drivers and passengers.

The taxi industry opposes these transportation network companies (TNC), claiming unfair competition, demanding more regulation and urging local governments to ban their operation. That was certainly the case last year when the two popular ridesharing companies came to South Florida and set up shop without jumping through any of the regulatory hoops that taxis have to navigate, such as government background checks on drivers, business permits, standard fares, and limits on the size of the fleet that can be on the road. A few counties responded by passing new transportation laws that the ridesharing companies found to be so stringent, they threatened to cease operations (and actually followed through in Broward County). But with about 10,000 Uber drivers working in Miami-Dade alone and a public outcry of support, the counties have agreed to draft new laws that will likely combine new rules for the TNCs with less strict rules for traditional taxis.

One of the biggest issues is insurance, which can make getting compensation from an accident involving a TNC driver trickier than in other kinds of accidents. Ridesharing drivers only have their personal policies – which don’t cover commercial situations. While Lyft and Uber do carry $1 million of liability coverage for any accidents, the coverage kicks in only when a driver is actually performing a trip for the company, and it can be difficult to determine if the driver is “working.” At what point does a person become a TNC driver? When getting in the car? Turning on the app? Agreeing to pick up a passenger? When the passenger enters the car? According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, 20 states have adopted compromising laws that close possible gaps in coverage, but Florida is currently not one of them.

Being in a car collision is stressful enough without having to figure out whether the negligent driver had a client in the car, was in between trips, was actively looking around for a job, or was finished after a full day of driving. For people seriously injured in crashes involving a TNC driver, recovering a fair amount of damages is complicated by the multiple insurance policies at play, as well as by the driver’s varying roles. And the answers can make a huge difference in the amount recovered – if the driver was on the clock for a TNC, $1 million in additional insurance may be available. Additional concerns often raised about TNCs involve lack of vehicle maintenance checks, no hours of service/rest period requirements, and the reliance on distracting real-time apps in order to claim a fare that can take driver attention off the road.

The legal issues surrounding rideshare accidents are highly complex, making it critical to seek the advice of an attorney familiar with this emerging area of law. As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski Law has helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities and remedies. We are highly experienced in handling car accident claims, and we work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a case evaluation form.

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