Passengers using rideshare services like Uber and Lyft know (or at least should know, as these terms and conditions are posted on each ridesharing company’s website) that the ridesharing companies consider their drivers to be independent contractors. When a passenger is involved in a crash while riding in an Uber or Lyft vehicle, the process of obtaining compensation can be complicated enough. However, passengers who are deliberately injured by an act of violence committed by their Uber or Lyft driver are left in a vulnerable legal position. Neither Uber nor Lyft allow themselves to be sued for such acts, meaning that the passengers will likely have difficulty holding the responsible party accountable for his or her actions.
While a new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown does not solve this dilemma completely, it does aim to make passengers who use rideshare platforms a little bit safer.
Criminal Background Checks Now Required
The new law now requires ridesharing companies to conduct thorough background checks on prospective drivers. Whereas ridesharing companies would previously only be required to check the applicant’s driving record for the previous seven years, the new law requires companies to check local, state, and federal criminal histories of an applicant before hiring that person. If the prospective driver has convictions for violent crimes, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or is a registered sex offender, the company is not permitted to hire the driver. Companies that fail to properly screen prospective drivers could face a fine of up to $5,000 if a driver with a prohibited offense in his or her background is hired.
Does This New Law Create Civil Liability?
The law has not prompted any changes in Uber or Lyft’s terms and conditions that individuals must sign prior to using the ridesharing company’s app and services. So while the law does promote passenger safety in that it provides companies with a financial incentive to screen its applicants better, it does not appear that the new law will suddenly create civil liability for ridesharing companies that continue to allow drivers with dangerous criminal histories to offer rides through the ridesharing company.
This means passengers must still be careful about using ridesharing services. You should not accept a ride from a driver that you did not hire and that does not match the description of the driver you hired. Pay attention to the ratings of the drivers on the ridesharing company’s app and avoid using drivers that have received bad reviews. Keep in contact with friends and family members before and while using Uber or Lyft so that someone can summon help for you in the event of an emergency. Finally, if attacked by an Uber or Lyft driver, be sure to contact local law enforcement right away and provide as detailed of a description of the driver as possible. This will help preserve important details that can be useful in locating the individual and holding him or her civilly and criminally responsible for his or her actions.
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