As ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft gain a more permanent foothold in South Florida, questions of the liability these services may have in crash cases are being raised. iphones

When these services first began to emerge in South Florida in 2014, local governments, citing the already heavily-regulated taxi industry, sought to shut them down. However, as consumer demand has grown, these efforts have eased. In fact, both Broward and Palm Beach Counties are in the process of drafting ordinances that would make it easier for these companies to operate. Miami-Dade officials are mulling a similar measure.

Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade, said the proposal would likely involve easing certain restrictions for the taxi industry as well.

The ride-sharing services, which are sometimes referred to as “transportation network companies,” offer ride services from individuals who use their private vehicles and can choose to work as much or as little as they want. That has resulted in questions about whether the drivers are in fact “employees.” This status is important not just for the benefit of workers, but also in terms of establishing whether vicarious liability of the companies is an option when these vehicles are involved in car accidents.

Recently, an expectant mother in Miami filed a lawsuit against Lyft, alleging one of its drivers struck and killed her husband, who was on a motorcycle, on Halloween. According to NBC 6 Miami, the driver was cited for for failure to yield the right-of-way when making a left turn. Plaintiff’s lawsuit alleges the company negligently hired and supervised this and other drivers, who are prone to distraction and fatigue.

A spokesperson for Lyft declined to comment on the pending litigation.

There is concern regarding the current lack of regulation for these services, when those working within the traditional taxi industry model are subject to greater scrutiny. For example, taxi services are required to complete background checks on drivers. There are also tight limits on how many vehicles any one service can have in operation at a given time. Fares are also regulated by local government agencies, but Lyft and Uber have been able to sidestep these. So while the services are generally less expensive than traditional cabs, they may be more expensive during peak hours.

The companies now say they are trying to work with government officials to reach an agreeable regulatory solution. The services do have some sway in the talks, as approximately 4,000 e-mails came pouring into Broward County commissioners after the county took steps to block the services. It’s estimated Uber alone has 10,000 drivers who work just in Miami-Dade.

Still, one of the more contentious issues is insurance. Permitted taxis are required to be covered by insurance 24/7. Ride-sharing services do offer insurance policies for those who contract to drive with them, but there are questions about when exactly the vehicle and the driver is “covered.” For example, does the coverage kick in when the driver gets in his or her vehicle? When he or she makes an arrangement to pick up a passenger? Or is it when the passenger actually gets into the vehicle?

Uber, which has a $1 million insurance policy, indicates its drivers are covered from the point they agree to pick up a passenger, and the coverage stays in effect until the trip has completed.

However, critics have noted that leaves a sizable gap in coverage from the time the driver turns the mobile application on and when he or she actually gets a customer. If the driver is in an accident in the meantime, it may be difficult for injured victims to obtain necessary coverage.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Uber, Lyft Earn Permanent Placement in South Florida, Aug. 24, 2015, By Micahel Vasquez and Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald

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Maniglia v. Carpenter – Florida Car Accident Lawsuit to be Retried, Nov. 9, 2015, Miami Car Accident Attorney Blog