Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

2019-crash-300x284Uber and Lyft are the new on-demand transportation (or “rideshare”) companies that have revolutionized the for-hire and taxi transportation business in the last few years. Users download the Uber or Lyft app to their mobile phone and setup an account with a credit card for payment.  Once setup, users can request a ride pick-up from their phone to which nearby Uber or Lyft drivers in the area respond. The apps allow riders to track the driver and process payment electronically.

Lyft and Uber are relatively new companies but they have exploded in popularity over the last 5 years. My sister is in Kenya right now and she is traveling around by Uber. Lyft, Uber’s kid brother, is about to go public and make their founders and estimated $9.4 bazillion.  Car accidents involving Lyft or Uber drivers are becoming more and more common and these cars flood our roads.

Claims Against Lyft or Uber

So what happens if you are injured in a car accident caused by a driver for Lyft or Uber? What if you are a passenger with an Uber or Lyft driver and you get injured in an accident? Can you bring a claim or lawsuit in Maryland against Uber or Lyft? Although drivers for both Lyft and Uber are actually independent contractors the companies still have direct liability for accidents involving their drivers and passengers in Maryland.  As long as the driver is actually in the process of driving a customer (i.e., “on-duty”) when the accident occurs Uber and Lyft will accept direct responsibility.  Passengers and other drivers or pedestrians involved in the accident can bring a claim and/or file a lawsuit against Uber or Lyft.

Uber Accident Claims

Uber claims publicly that its drivers and passengers are safely protected by a comprehensive $1 million insurance policy. The reality, however, is that the $1 million coverage is only the highest level of a 3-tiered insurance policy that applies different levels depending on the Uber driver’s activity status at the time of the accident.

Driver Status Applicable Coverage Under Uber Policy
 

Off-Duty

 

When an Uber driver is not accepting or not available to accept passengers and driving their vehicle for personal reasons, they are “off-duty” and there is no coverage under the Uber policy. Accidents involving “off-duty” Uber drivers would be covered under the driver’s personal auto insurance policy.

 

Accepting

Passengers

If the accident occurs when the Uber driver is available to accept new passengers but is not actually transporting a passenger, the driver’s personal auto insurance will provide primary coverage.  However, Uber will provide contingent “excess” coverage if the driver’s personal insurance does not fully cover the damages.

 

Transporting Passenger If the accident occurs when the Uber driver actually has a passenger in their car, then both the driver and passengers get primary coverage under Uber’s $1 million policy.

 

Lyft Accident Claims

On its website and app, Lyft claims to have a “first-of-its-kind” insurance plan that supposedly covers Lyft drivers “from the minute they flip into drive mode” until they drop off their last fare for the day.  Again, this claim is somewhat misleading because although Lyft also has a $1 million insurance policy that coverage only applies in certain circumstances.  In fact, Lyft’s insurance coverage applies on a 3-tier basis that is almost identical to Uber.

 

Driver Status Applicable Coverage Under Lyft Policy
 

Driver App Off

 

Lyft drivers can turn their driver app on (to signal that they are accepting passengers) or off when they are not available to accept passengers.  If the Lyft Driver App is off at the time the accident occurs everything is covered by the driver’s own personal auto insurance policy.  Coverage under the Lyft policy does not apply.

 

Driver App On The minute a Lyft driver turns the Driver App on and becomes available to accept passengers, the first tier of the Lyft coverage applies.  This 2nd tier coverage is called “Contingent Liability” and it steps in if an when the driver’s own personal insurance “does not respond.” This appears to be somewhat more than Uber’s 2nd tier coverage which must be requested and will only apply after the driver’s personal policy is maxed out.

 

Ride Accepted As soon as a Lyft driver accepts a new passenger request on the Driver App, Lyft’s $1 million policy automatically kicks in and provides primary coverage for any accident.  The coverage remains active until the passenger is dropped off and the ride is complete.

 

Assault & Battery Claims Against Uber & Lyft

Car accidents are not the only source of claims and civil lawsuits against Lyft and Uber.  Unfortunately, drivers for both companies occasionally do bad things to passengers that result in lawsuits for torts such as assault or battery.  Even though their drivers are technically independent contractors as opposed to company employees, Lyft and Uber can still be held liable for the bad acts of their drivers under several legal theories.  The legal basis for these type of tort claims against Lyft and Uber is analyzed in detail in a recent opinion from the U.S. District Court in California.

In that case, Doe v. Uber Technologies, an Uber driver was taking a young female passenger home late at night and assaulted and raped her. She sued Uber and asserted claims for (1) negligent hiring and supervision; and (2) assault and battery. Uber’s liability for the assault and battery claims was based on the theory of respondeat superior which holds employers vicariously liable for the acts of employees. Uber moved to dismiss the vicarious liability claims on the grounds that the driver was an independent contractor not an employee. The Court rejected this defense pointing to several facts which indicate that Uber maintains a level of control over its drivers that is consistent with an employer-employee relationship:

  • Uber retains the right to terminate drivers at will
  • Uber sets fare prices and drivers cannot negotiate fares
  • Uber retains control over customer contact information
  • Drivers do not have specialized skills
  • Drivers are required to accept all ride requests when logged in
  • Uber even controls how drivers interact and communicate with riders

According to the Court these indicators of control could be more than enough for a jury to find an employment relationship between Uber and the driver.  With respect to the claims for negligent hiring and supervision, Uber’s defense was that it was not negligent because there was no way it could have known that the driver posed a danger to passengers.  The Court rejected this defense also because the Plaintiff alleged that Uber’s background check was inadequate as it only looked back 7 years and therefore missed a 10 year old assault conviction against the driver. The Court ruled that this was enough for a jury to find that Uber was negligent in its hiring of the driver.

The decision in Doe v. Uber essentially provides a legal blueprint for bringing successful tort claims against Lyft or Uber for assaults and other bad acts by drivers against passengers.  Over the last several years, stories of assaults by Uber and Lyft drivers against passengers have become a common feature in the news. Many of these cases have eventually led to civil suits based on allegations similar to those outlined in the Doe case.

Settlement Value of Cases Against Lyft and Uber

If you are dealing with Lyft or Uber on an accident claim, you have to understand that these guys are just making more money than we could ever imagine.  The only thing that rocks the boat is bad publicity.  They do not want lawsuits.  I mean, they don’t want the Baltimore City Paper writing an article on page 19 about an Uber lawsuit.

What does this mean?  Uber and Lyft are going to pay higher than the market value for a claim.  So if you are a plaintiff’s lawyer, you are selling your client short if you are fighting to get the fair value of the case.  You want to get what they will give you and this mean getting them to go as high as they will (or filing a lawsuit to get them there).

Contact Miller & Zois About Claims Against Lyft or Uber

Whether you have a standard auto accident claim or a major assault and battery case, going after Lyft or Uber can be difficult.  The personal injury attorneys at Miller & Zois have the knowledge and experience to help.  Call us at 800-553-8082 or contact us online for a free consultation.

 

Insurance Companies Put Up a Fight

Get Your Case Settled for a Good Value

I believe car crash injury victims are always better off hiring counsel for many reasons not worth fully exploring here (but I do here). But if there is any type of claim where an injured victim can justify proceeding without a lawyer, it is in the classic neck or back soft tissue/whiplash injury traffic collision case with clearly no permanency.

My belief has always been that the benefit of experienced counsel can bring to a case is going to vary inversely with the severity of the injury. If you have a permanent injury, you are foolish if you don’t hire a lawyer. (I wouldn’t handle my own case either because that is also an awful idea.)

A quality attorney in those cases is statistically going to get you a lot more money – put a lot more money in your pocket – than you would get for yourself. The same is probably true in soft tissue neck/back injury cases, too. But car accident lawyers cannot run from the fact that the difference is much less significant.  Some people just prefer the path where lawyers are not taking money away from their settlement. So be it. As long as you understand you run a risk just like you run a risk when you try to install your own bathroom floor, just typically with a lot more money at stake.

Continue reading

Knee dislocations are relatively rare in automobile accidents.  But we have seen a number of these recently so I’m writing today about these injuries and to give you some idea of the potential settlement value of these claims.

Knee Discloations in Car Accidents

knee-200x300Knee dislocations occur from athletics,  high energy impacts, such as a car crash, or low impact falls in people that are extremely overweight.  A dislocated knee is non-functional, often painful, and induces large abnormal strains on the collateral ligaments.   Because of the potential for neurovascular damage associated with the injury, knee dislocations are considered to be one of the most serious knee injuries.

I have long said it is an open question under Maryland law as to whether you are required to give a recorded statement to your own insurance company if you are making an uninsured motorist claim even if the insurance contract obligates you to do so.

The theory is that Maryland has a statutory scheme that preempts any contractual obligation imposed by the contract.  I didn’t make this up, I stole it from Janquitto’s book on Maryland insurance law.  (You should own if you are a lawyer handling auto tort cases in Maryland.)

I’m not sure whether this argument was advanced in Dolan v. Kemper, a new Maryland Court of Special Appeals case decided last week.  But if it was, the CSA has shut the door on it.

Some of the most serious personal injury cases our firm handles involve motorcycle accidents.  Too often, other drivers don’t pay attention or fail to yield to motorcycles.  Even a minor collision can result in significant injury or even death for a motorcycle rider.  Our lawyers have been successful in obtaining significant settlements and verdicts in Motorcycle cases throughout Maryland.  Our singular focus is to assist our clients in getting the maximum amount of financial compensation for their motorcycle accident case.

How Much is a Motorcycle Accident Case Worth?

There is no definitive answer to this question of the settlement value of the average Maryland motorcycle accident cases.   If anyone spends more time trying to figure out how to objectively understand the range of possible settlement and trial values for personal injury claims, I want to meet that person. I regularly track analytics on average financial awards for all types of accident cases, not just in Maryland but around the country.  But the truth is that every case is unique making value comparisons very difficult.  Moreover, the many motorcycle accident cases — including a large number of ours – are resolved with confidential settlements that are not reported.

I met a really nice woman last week who young high school son was tragically killed in a car accident in which he was a passenger.  I meet the nicest people in this job and I always wish it was under different circumstances.

Anyone who drives is very familiar with this scenario in this wrongful death case.  You’re out on the road and see another driver who is trying to make a turn or change lanes.  Empathy is natural because you have been in that same situation yourself.  You recognize that you’re in a position to maybe help them out a little so you back up a few feet, make some eye contact and graciously hand signal for them to “go ahead.”  Most of the time the other driver gladly advances, gives a thanks signal, and everyone drives away with warm, fuzzing feelings of roadway civility (unless they do not give “the wave” which should be a felony).

But what if they proceed with their turn in response to your friendly signal and get t-boned by an oncoming truck in the next lane that neither of you saw coming?  I knew the answer to this question but it was sort of “The Law of Ron” type thing — I had no real source for my conclusion and a few lawyers at my office disagreed.  So I thought my research would make a good blog post for other lawyers.

I wrote last week about a bill pending in the Maryland House of Delegates that would authorize punitive damages against drunk drivers who caused “injury or wrongful death while operating a motor vehicle.” For whatever reason, the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee rejected the bill which means it is not happening.

2018 Update

I wrote this post originally in 2012.  In 2018, this bill keeps getting held up.  Last year, Senator Bobby Zurkin and other sponsored a bill that would allow for puntive damages if the drunk in question caused physical injury or death while driving with a BAC of .15, nearly twice the legal limit.  The burden of proof would be higher — clear and convincing evidence — making the burden higher for plaintiffs.  But the bill failed once again.

hotgirls3Early Saturday morning, the United States Senate passed a bill that, if enacted, will be a boon for car accident lawyers in Maryland and around the country.  The Senate’s tax reform bill included language which would decrease the federal alcohol excise taxes by 16 percent and lead to steep cuts in the cost of beer, wine, and liquor.  It is a “car accident lawyer jobs bill” although sources tell me this is not the official title of the bill

The newly passed Senate’s bill would, for example, cut the federal taxes on beer from $7.00 to $3.50 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels and from $18.00 to $16.00 per barrel on the next six million barrels. I am unfamiliar with how big a barrel is, but I know that it is going to cut the cost of buying alcohol.

Fewer people die in drunk driving accidents than when I was a kid.  Even though billions of dollars have been spent trying to eradicate drunk driving, we have not gained much ground.  Every year, over 10,000 people die in drunk driving accidents.  That is not the half of it.  An estimated 88,000 deaths every year are attributable to alcohol, which makes it the third leading cause of preventable deaths after smoking and poor diet/lack of exercise.  But we are not talking about just deaths.  Alcohol destroys families and leads to crime, illness, and non-fatal car accidents.  Not for nothing for those who are excited about the ostensible economic benefits of this tax plan, alcohol use slows down economic productivity and leads to job losses.

You’ve met your injured client, executed your fee agreement, gathered your facts and put your file together. Your client is asking whether it is time to settle her personal injury case. Is it time to consider a settlement?  If you settle a case too soon, you are leaving money on the table.  If you wait too long, you are wasting time…. or worse.

Be Clear on Notice and Filing Deadlines

when can i settle personal injury case

When can I settle my client’s personal injury case?

When deciding whether it is time to settle your case, first and foremost, check the statute of limitations.  If you have a statute problem, all bets are off. If you have less than six months, file suit.  You can worry about settlement later.  You do not want to lose your right to bring a claim. There are exceedingly few to exceptions to a statute of limitations.

You can always serve the defendant, send a copy to the claims representative with whom you’ve been dealing, and agree to take no further action during a fixed time period, during which it is understood that settlement negotiations will be addressed. Also, be sure early on, when opening your file, whether there are any statutory notice provisions with which you must comply pre-suit.  Sometimes they are obvious — clearly county-owned vehicle — and sometimes you are never going to be able to know unless you file suit and get defendant’s discovery responses. 

You can always serve the defendant, send a copy to the claims representative, and agree to take no further action during a fixed time period, during which it is understood that settlement negotiations will be addressed. Also, be sure early on, when opening your file, whether there are any statutory notice provisions with which you must comply pre-suit. Claims against state and local governments typically have provisions such as these, which require specific notice to be given to designated officials.  If you are an inexperienced lawyer or a pro se plaintiff, read that last sentence carefully.  Because “Oh, come on, I’m sure it got to the right person” is not going to fly.

Continue reading

When should you retain an expert in a personal injury accident case?  The short answer is early, usually earlier than you think.Experts recommend

This is never a problem in medical malpractice cases, because it is well understood that medical malpractice claims are predicated on expert  testimony, to even bring forth a claim in the first place.  But lawyers — both Plaintiffs’ lawyers and defense attorneys —  typically wait too long.

How do you know whether or not you need an expert?  Investigate.  Early.  Do you have a problem with speed, with drinking, with highway design, or with a “dangerous condition?” You will not know if you have any of these problems, without investigating your claims properly.

Continue reading

Contact Information