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Are Ride Sharing Companies Responsible for Deaths Their Drivers (or Self-Driving Cars) Cause?

Technology has brought lots of changes to the marketplace, both in Oregon and across the United States. With peer-to-peer sharing services, we can search on an app and within minutes rent a room, a home, or perhaps even a castle, almost anywhere in the world. When we depart for our vacation, we can leave our pets safe and sound in the home of a pet lover we discovered online. And, of course, when we need a ride, ride-sharing (some prefer the term “ride-hailing”) services like Lyft and Uber can meet our transportation needs.

These companies offer many benefits, including lower cost and the convenience of quickly booking the service directly from our smart devices. Unfortunately, however, technological change sometimes occurs so quickly that the law needs time to catch up. For example, taxis have been regulated for decades, and have rules in place to protect passengers. On the other hand, there are sometimes gaps in the regulations for ride-sharing companies. So, what happens when ride sharing drivers or self-driving cars cause deaths and injuries?

State by State Lawmaking

With the increasing popularity of ride sharing came a number of important questions. For example, how much insurance must a driver carry, and who is responsible for purchasing it? When is the coverage effective? Similarly, what level of training and ability must a driver have? While individual states have reacted differently, there have been cases with a great deal of notoriety, which help to illustrate the issues.

For example, in 2013 an Uber driver in San Francisco killed a child in a crosswalk when he struck the mother and her two children. Uber contended that it had no responsibility because the driver was not involved in an Uber trip at the time of the accident. The opposing lawyer disagrees, alleging that when a driver is logged into the Uber app looking for fares, the driver is working on behalf of the company.

Where Does Oregon Stand with Ride Sharing Companies?

In Oregon, legislation was introduced in 2017 that would have addressed companies like Uber and Lyft on a statewide basis. However, the bill died in committee. Therefore, regulations can still vary from city to city. In fact, some Oregon cities currently do not permit these drivers to operate, while others do. Notwithstanding differences in regulations, general negligence law requires that ride-sharing companies and their drivers, like everyone, must exercise reasonable care in conducting themselves. Thus, if a ride-sharing driver negligently causes the death of a person, a wrongful death action can be pursued against the driver.

If the driver was working on behalf of a ride sharing company at the time of the accident, an action should also be pursued against the company. Careful investigation of all the surrounding circumstances would be necessary. As illustrated in the example in California, there may be circumstances in which the ride-sharing company contends that the driver was not acting on its behalf. Finally, issues of insurance coverage are separate, but related questions, which can be complicated. We’ll address these questions in greater detail in a future article.

What about Self-Driving Cars?

Society similarly has not fully addressed issues of liability for injuries and deaths caused by self-driving cars. Fortunately, the concept of negligence fits nicely, just as it does with so many other circumstances in which society measures conduct by determining whether a defendant acted reasonable under the circumstances. Thus, if a wrongdoer’s negligence is the cause of death or injury, then a cause of action in negligence should be available.

Call with Questions

All areas of law are complicated, but even more so when gray areas exist as the result of technological change and innovation. If you’ve been injured by the negligence of a ride-sharing driver, or anyone else, please call us so that we may answer your questions. If you need help pursuing your rights, the experienced lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield will help to make sure that wrongdoers are held responsible for their actions. This is the only way to protect all of us.


Helpful Links:

Fortune – “Police Say Uber Is Likely Not at Fault for Its Self-Driving Car Fatality in Arizona” –