Uber Problems: Are Passengers Insured For Car Accidents?

This week, The San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, and The Washington Post all reported on the confusion over insurance coverage over accidents involving popular app-based services such as UberX, Lyft and Sidecar. Insurance coverage has been a major issue for the ride sharing companies following a high profile accident in San Francisco where a small child was fatally injured by an Uber driver. Similarly this month, a Lyft passenger was fatally injured outside of Sacramento, CA.

Questions have arisen as to what extent a car accident is covered by the driver's policy v. the ride-sharing service? Does a driver or ride-sharing service cover accidents when en route to a pickup? Will a passenger be covered for accidents where the ride-sharing driver is at fault?

According to news reports, Uber has a $1 Million dollar policy, but an accident may not be covered until the driver is matched with a paying customer. This reported policy has drawn criticism following the San Francisco fatality where the Uber driver was not transporting a customer at the time of the collision.

In a traditional auto-accident, the at fault driver will be responsible for damages through his or her insurance policy. If he or she does not have coverage or has inadequate coverage, the party not at fault's uninsured (UM) or underinsured (UIM) coverage usually will apply. Ensuring potential victims of auto accidents are covered when using app-based ride sharing programs is vital to the safety of the urban areas where these services operate.

When Fitbit Data Is Called As A Witness In Your Injury Case

Last week, The Atlantic and Forbes, both reported on first use of Fitbit (or wearable technology’s) use in the courtroom. According to the articles, the personal injury suit involves an injured personal trainer who is using Fitbit to support her testimony about her reduced levels of activity following an injury. Her Fitbit data is analyzed by Vivametrica and measured against activity data from the general population. Although the case is occurring in Canada, it signals the increasing interest from both personal injury lawyers and insurance defense lawyers on the use of this data.

One can imagine the scenario where an individual has used the Fitbit months before a major injury and thus continued to use it following the accident. The data, if collected accurately, may illustrate the change in activity levels. This evidence could prove helpful to a jury in evaluating the impact an injury has on a plaintiff, one of the most difficult areas of a case to prove.

While this is reportedly the first use of Fitbit data in the courtroom, the use of data from social fitness sites has been used before. In 2012, the performance tracking site Strava came under scrutiny following a fatal collision between a cyclist using Strava and 71-year old Sutchi Huia crossing the street with his wife in New York City. Strava also came under attack in a personal injury suit brought by the estate of the cyclist fatally injured while attempting to set a new record on the performance tracking site. The use of performance tracking data from wearable devices will be seen more frequently as consumer demand and improvement in tracking technology occurs.

Legislature Asked To Revise Driving-Texting Law

Texting while driving and other forms of “distracted-driving” is a national issue. An estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012 alone. This is according to the Distraction.gov, a PSA website to inform drivers.

Yet, states are slow to revise their laws to prohibit driving-texting laws because of the difficulty in drafting language and enforcement. As Washington’s law is written now, an officer would typically need to visibly see a driver manipulating their device. Yet, according to a recent article in The Olympian, Washington Traffic Safety Commission has sought stricter language to the law from the state legislature.

Due to the difficulty in enforcing these laws, the responsibility rests on the driver. This is the message and theme of Werner Herzog’s recent documentary on the aftermath of distracted driving accidents. The film is a notable departure from more “shock PSA’s.”

Philadelphia trial lawyer, Joel Feldman sadly knows the grim reality of distracted driving, having lost his daughter to a distracted driver. Below is a presentation he gave to high school students on the three types of distracted driving; manual, visual, and cognitive.

First Uber, Now Lyft: Insurance Issues

San Francisco News outlets reported yesterday of Lyft-operated vehicle who allegedly struck a pedestrian in the Nob Hill neighborhood.  The pedestrian was later taken to a hospital for a leg injury and is not believed to have suffered life-threatening injuries.

The accident comes just two weeks after a fatal car accident in San Francisco involving an Uber driver.  Ride-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar have gained increasing attention in recent weeks for public safety and adequacy of insurance coverage for accident victims.

Uber Woes…Not Just Legal

The New York Times reports this week of the recent challenges facing ride-share operator Uber. In the last few months, Uber has drawn critics from celebrities such as Salman Rushdie and Jessica Seinfeld for exorbitant pricing during peak times. New Year’s Eve 2013 also marked the tragedy of a fatal car accident with an alleged Uber-contracted driver, killing a 6-year-old girl. Uber is also being sued by its own drivers over tips drivers reportedly never received.

The article appearing in the New York Times Technology section highlights the many problems a tech startup can face in transitioning an industry-disrupting idea into reality.