Who is Responsible for Uber or Lyft Accidents in California?

California Public Utilities Code section 5433 requires ride-sharing companies to maintain at least $1,000,000 in commercial liability and uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance. The insurance covers ride sharing passengers who are injured in car accidents in California, regardless of who is at fault.

But people who are injured by Uber or Lyft drivers when there are no passengers in the car are likely to have much less protection.

If the driver was logged into the ride sharing app and looking for passengers, California law requires only that the driver be insured for up to $50,000 in damages.

And if the driver is on his or her own time, the driver's personal auto insurance policy applies. The driver can, by law, have as little as “15/30/5” coverage, meaning:

  • $15,000 in damages for death or injury to any one person for any single accident,
  • $30,000 in damages to be divided among all people killed or injured in any single accident, and
  • $5,000 in damage to other vehicles and property.[1]

Yet after a car accident damages such as medical bills, car repair bills and lost wages are likely to be much higher. An experienced California accident lawyer can make sure you recover as much compensation as possible from all the responsible parties.

To help you better understand the law on ride-sharing accidents in California, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following, below:

bearded young man in glasses, jeans and cardigan making call on cell phone after car accident

1. California ride-sharing laws

Uber and Lyft are what are known as “transportation network companies" or “TNC”s. Transportation network companies are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission and sections 5430 - 5445.2 (Article 7) of the Public Utilities Code.

Under the code, a “transportation network company” is defined as:

“an organization, including, but not limited to, a corporation, limited liability company, partnership, sole proprietor, or any other entity, operating in California that provides prearranged transportation services for compensation using an online-enabled application or platform to connect passengers with drivers using a personal vehicle.”[2]

By law, ride sharing companies in California must conduct background checks of their drivers.[3] They must also ensure that they and their drivers maintain a minimum amount of combined liability insurance coverage.

How much coverage must be maintained depends on what the driver is doing at any given time. For the sake of convenience, insurers usually refer to three different periods as described below.

2. The three ride sharing "periods"

Ride sharing liability in California depends on which of three periods applies:

Period 1: No ride-sharing activity by driver. The driver is not carrying passengers and is not actively seeking them through the rider sharing app.

Period 2: Driver active (logged into the app), but waiting for a ride request. The driver has the Uber or Lyft app on, but has not yet accepted an assignment.

Period 3: Ride request accepted through end of ride. Period 3 starts the moment the driver accepts a ride request and ends once all passengers have been dropped at their destination and the ride has ended in the app.

3. How much liability insurance must ride sharing companies have?

During Period 1 the driver's personal auto insurance policy applies. Some drivers may have more than the minimum 15/30/5 insurance required by California law. But many will not. This insurance is likely to be inadequate to cover the injured party's damages.

During Period 2, ride sharing drivers in California must be covered by at least 50/100/30 insurance, meaning:

  • $50,000 for death or injury to any one person in a single accident,
  • $100,000 for death and personal injury to all people in a single accident, and 
  • $30,000 for property damage.

This coverage is often referred to as “gap” coverage and may be provided by the driver and/or the TNC.

During Period 3, the driver must be covered by a commercial liability policy in the minimum amount of $1,000,000. The policy must also include $1,000,000 of uninsured /underinsured motorist coverage.

4. Who do I sue if I am injured in a California Uber or Lyft accident?

People who are injured in California by ridesharing drivers may be able to recover damages from more than one party.

If the driver was “on the clock” (Period 2 or 3), the ride-sharing company is usually primarily liable.

If the driver is on his/her own time (Period 1), the driver's personal auto insurer will usually bear the initial responsibility.

But more than one policy may cover the accident. Additionally, if there is not enough insurance, the driver (or possibly the ride-sharing company) can be sued for the excess.

Our California car accident lawyers can help you determine which party or parties may be responsible and which have assets.

5. Who can sue a ride sharing company after an accident?

People who may be able to sue Uber or Lyft include:

  • Passengers riding in a car they ordered through Uber or Lyft (regardless of who was at fault for the accident),
  • Drivers and passengers in other cars injured because of an Uber or Lyft driver who was searching for or transporting passengers, and
  • Pedestrians hit by drivers who were transporting or actively looking for passengers through Uber or Lyft.

6. What damages can I recover after a ride sharing accident in California?

People injured in an accident with an Uber or Lyft driver may be entitled to compensation for:

  • Current and future medical bills,
  • Counseling,
  • Physical and/or occupational therapy,
  • Long- or short-term care,
  • Lost wages,
  • Lost earning capacity,
  • Car repair bills,
  • Disfigurement, 
  • Loss of bodily function, and
  • Pain and suffering.

Additionally, people whose close family members were killed because of an accident involving an Uber or Lyft driver may be able to recover damages in a California wrongful death lawsuit.

7. What if I am partially to blame for the accident?

California's shared fault law allows people to recover some of their damages if they were partly to blame for an accident. This is sometimes referred to as California's "comparative fault" or “comparative negligence” law.

Auto insurers frequently try to avoid or delay making payments by claiming that their driver was not liable or that the other driver was more at fault. They use this argument to get you to go away or to accept a “nuisance value” settlement.

Our team of experienced California injury lawyers and accident investigators knows how to counter the tactics of commercial auto insurers.

We can help you avoid the petty delays insurers try to impose to avoid paying you the compensation you deserve.

Injured in an Uber or Lyft accident in California? Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know has been in an accident involving a ride-sharing driver, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Our experienced California accident attorneys handle individual and California class actions against Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Curb and other ride sharing companies.

Call us at (855) 396-0370 to discuss your case with one of our knowledgeable lawyers.

Or complete the form on this page and an attorney will contact you at a mutually convenient time.

We can also help you if you were injured in an Uber or Lyft accident in Nevada.

Legal references:

  1. California Insurance Code 11580.1.
  2. Public Utilities Code 5431 (c).
  3. Public Utilities Code 5445.2.

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