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Last month, Uber’s self-driving truck made its first delivery: 50,000 beers from the Anheuser Busch brewery in Fort Collins, 120 miles down I-25 to Colorado Springs. The sight of an 18-wheeler trucking down the highway without a driver is only going to become more common as the technology improves and spreads. Uber already has a fleet of self-driving cars ferrying passengers around Pittsburgh.

self-driving-truck-lawsWhile self-driving vehicles won’t become common nationwide for some time, the proliferation of ride-sharing services like Uber brings questions about liability. The legal professionals at Ramos Law have answers for some of the more common questions.

 

What happens if my Uber gets pulled over or into an accident?

In Colorado, Uber and other ride-sharing companies are regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The Colorado Rideshare Insurance Bill, enacted in 2015, requires that a driver have one of the following insurance options in place when driving for Uber or any other rideshare company:  

  • Have a personal auto policy that accepts ridesharing as a covered use.
  • Have a complete commercial auto insurance policy.
  • Your rideshare company has a primary liability insurance policy of at least $1 million dollars.

Many personal policies do not cover vehicles that carry passengers for money and insurers may cancel a driver’s policy if he/ she is involved in an accident while driving for Uber or other rideshare companies. This is especially the case if the driver has not told the insurance company that the car is being used for ridesharing.

What happens if an Uber refuses to pick me up?  

There is no recourse if a rideshare driver refuses to pick up a passenger as long as the requesting passenger is not charged and the refusal is not discriminatory. Drivers cannot charge for rides that simply do not occur. Also, drivers are bound by the same public accommodation laws as taxis and cannot refuse to pick up a rider for a discriminatory reason.

What are Uber’s responsibilities in terms of preventing and dealing with criminal driver behavior?  

This issue turns on whether Uber drivers are employees or independent contractors.  

An employer in the state of Colorado can be held liable for the acts of its employees, including criminal behavior, under theories of Respondent Superior, Negligent Hiring and Supervision, and Negligent Entrustment.

If there is an independent contractor relationship, an employer could be held liable for the criminal acts of its contractor. Especially under an agency theory or an employer’s independent liability, if the employer was negligent in the selection of a contractor who cannot competently and safely perform the work.

Uber maintains that its drivers are independent contractors. However, in a lawsuit filed by Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts, the United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of California held that Uber drivers are not independent contractors as a matter of law.  After the Court issued its opinion, the parties agreed to a settlement of the case. Interestingly, in that settlement agreement, Uber and the Plaintiffs agreed to permit Uber to continue to claim that its drivers were independent contractors. Ultimately, the parties’ settlement agreement was not approved by the Court due to other issues with the settlement structure. To date, it is still questionable if Uber drivers are independent contractors opposed to employees.

We anticipate that Uber drivers’ employment status will continue to be litigated. This is especially true in light of the IRS’ recent interest in making certain, employees are not being misclassified as independent contractors for tax purposes. As well as the increase of wage and hour cases for failure to pay wages, including overtime, under the Fair Labor Standards Act and state law.

What does the law say about Uber pickups from DIA?

Uber and other ride-sharing companies are regulated in Colorado by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The operation of a transportation service at Denver International Airport requires a permit from the airport. The Denver International Airport granted Uber a permit to pick up passengers at the airport in September 2014.