Connecticut features prominently in the history of taxis. In 1908, Albert Rockwell of Bristol, Connecticut, started a taxi company. The cabs were painted yellow at the insistence of Albert’s wife, whose favorite color was yellow. By 1910, the taxis were referred to as “yellow taxis,” and in 1912, Albert changed the name of his company to the Yellow Taxicab Company.
In Connecticut today, taxicabs aren’t the only option for people who need a ride. Rideshare companies, such as Uber and Lyft, are becoming more and more popular every day.
Like any mode of transportation, rideshares aren’t perfect. A wave of negative publicity over the last few years has raised a number of questions, including what happens when there’s a car accident involving a rideshare vehicle.
Rideshare companies (sometimes called peer-to-peer or ride-hailing companies) provide driver-for-hire services to consumers through the use of freelance drivers who use their personal vehicles to transport customers.
Rideshare services operate through a smartphone app. If you want to go to the Bradley International Airport from your apartment in West Hartford, you simply open the app, request a ride, and wait for your driver to arrive. Once your driver drops you off at your destination, the credit card you stored on the app will automatically be charged.
Rideshare vehicles are not the same as taxis. There are 3 important differences:
- Operation. To use a taxi, you typically hail it down. A meter inside the taxi calculates the cost of your ride and displays the fare. Once you arrive at your destination, you pay for your ride using cash or a credit card. Rideshare vehicles, on the other hand, are “hailed” using an app. You know the cost of your ride ahead of time, and the app stores your payment information and automatically charges your card at the end of your trip.
- Ownership. Taxis are generally owned by the taxi company and leased by the driver at great expense. Rideshare drivers use their personal vehicles to transport customers.
- Regulation. Taxi companies are heavily regulated. These regulations cover things like vehicle maintenance standards, background checks, accessibility requirements, licensing requirements, and various price controls. Rideshare companies, on the other hand, aren’t regulated nearly as heavily (at least not yet).
Rideshare vehicles get into accidents for many of the same reasons that non-rideshare vehicles get into accidents. This includes:
However, for purposes of determining rideshare accident liability, there are three types of rideshare accidents:
- A passenger was injured in a rideshare vehicle during a ride.
- A passenger was injured by a rideshare driver (for example, the passenger was assaulted by the rideshare driver).
- A driver or passenger of a non-rideshare vehicle was injured in an accident with a rideshare vehicle.
Whether you’re a passenger in a rideshare vehicle or the driver of a vehicle that collides with a rideshare vehicle, liability in Connecticut depends on who caused the accident (i.e., who’s at fault).
To prove that someone was at fault for a car accident, you typically need to prove the 3 elements of negligence:
- The defendant owed a duty of reasonable care (all drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid hurting others on the road),
- The defendant breached that duty (the defendant didn’t exercise reasonable care), and
- You were injured and suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s breach.
Determining fault in a rideshare accident case is just like determining fault in a regular car crash. What makes rideshare accidents a little different is the role insurance plays when the injured party seeks reimbursement from the at-fault party.
When rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft first started in the early 2000s, they didn’t provide their drivers with insurance. Instead, rideshare drivers used their own personal auto insurance policies.
Unfortunately, most personal auto insurance policies do not provide coverage when a vehicle is being used for business purposes. As a result, as soon as a rideshare driver picks up a passenger, the rideshare driver would have no liability insurance and also no collision insurance.
In 2014, Uber was sued when a driver struck and killed a young girl named Sofia Liu. As a result of the lawsuit, Uber began offering insurance to its drivers. Lyft quickly followed suit.
As of 2022, both Uber and Lyft provide $1 million in liability coverage for their drivers.
This sounds like a lot, but the amount of coverage depends on which “period” the driver is in:
- Period 0: When the driver isn’t logged into the Uber/Lyft app, no coverage is provided (the driver’s personal auto insurance might apply).
- Period 1: When the driver is logged into the app but hasn’t accepted a ride request, Uber/Lyft provides liability coverage for any accident that’s the fault of the driver, up to $50,000 per person and $100,000 total liability per accident.
- Period 2: When the driver has accepted a trip and is on the way to the pick-up location, liability coverage increases to $1 million.
- Period 3: When the customer is in the car, liability coverage of up to $1 million applies, plus limited coverage for damage to the driver’s car and uninsured motorist coverage.
Rideshare drivers are independent contractors (not employees). This is an important distinction. In Connecticut, employers are typically liable for the acts of their employees through the doctrine of respondeat superior. However, this doctrine doesn’t apply to independent contractors.
Although the doctrine of respondeat superior doesn’t apply, you can still sue a rideshare company in certain situations. For example, the rideshare company might be liable if they were negligent in allowing a driver to use their app or if the company continued to allow a driver to work for them despite a poor driving record.
Rideshare companies have faced hundreds of lawsuits alleging that passengers were sexually assaulted by rideshare drivers.
In 2019, a Connecticut woman was allegedly raped by one of Uber’s drivers while she was passed out drunk in the back of his car. The woman, who is not named in the lawsuit, claims the alleged rape happened, in part, due to Uber’s negligence.
More specifically, the woman alleged that Uber failed to adequately screen its drivers, monitor trips in progress for unexpected stops, and offer a panic button feature in the car or on the app.
The lawsuit is pending at the time of this publication.
In December 2019, Uber released its first-ever safety report. The report revealed that Uber received nearly 6,000 reports of sexual assault from drivers and passengers in 2017 and 2018. Uber released its second safety report in July 2022, revealing that just over 3,800 alleged incidents of sexual assault were reported to the company in 2019 and 2020.
Lyft released its first safety report in October 2021. The report disclosed that Lyft received more than 4,000 reports of sexual assaults during rides from 2017 to 2019.
Many of the lawsuits against Uber and Lyft have been successful.