Monthly Archives:' November 2016

At Your Fingertips

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In our last post, we talked about the move to require intensive background checks on Uber and Lyft drivers in Massachusetts. Before that news story developed, however, there was already something of a minor controversy brewing  in Maryland, with the two companies arguing they should not be required to fingerprint drivers, long a standard practice in the state when it came to taxi drivers.

The ridesharing companies are arguing that their own standard background checks are more effective and up-to-date, and that fingerprinting might tend to discriminate against minority drivers, who are more likely to have been arrested and fingerprinted than others. (Studies often show racial disparities in terms of such matters as drug arrests.)  Uber has threatened to withdraw its business from Maryland over the matter, though the firm makes an exception in New York City, where fingerprinting is required.

Of course, even as personal injury attorneys, it’s hard to know the impact something like fingerprinting in terms of whether or not it improves the safety of passengers and others. On the surface, it might be tempting to simply argue that any attempt to heighten the level of security is all to the good, regardless of whether or not such a move might unfairly remove some otherwise fully qualified and responsible drivers from consideration.  Others would argue, however, that the appearance of tighter security offered by fingerprinting does not necessarily translate into greater safety for everyone concerned. Another argument on the pro-fingerprinting side might be that screening out people who might have been formally involved with drugs or had DUI charges, even if not convicted, might seem like a sure plus in terms of safety.

All we can really say is that the, regardless, the public should stay on their toes whenever they get into a rideshare or taxi cab. Even the best screening program in the world will never be 100% effective at screening out problematic individuals.

Deep Background

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ABC News and the Associated Press are reporting that Uber, Lyft and the state of Massachusetts have reached an agreement in which ridesharing drivers will be required to undergo a comprehensive background check. According to the report, the screening process will have two tiers, and will be performed both by the ridesharing companies and the state. Other articles are commenting that the changes are arriving earlier than expected, though the company background checks have already been in place.

From the point of a view of a personal injury attorney, this seems likes a sensible enough step.  While a company background check may very well help to screen out drivers with potential issues in their past history, there’s no substitute for the ability of a state like Massachusetts to look for any signs of past felonies or serious driving offenses, not to mention signs of possible violent crimes. Since California and Massachusetts have many similarities as states, it will be interesting to see if any such changes are instituted here. It might also be a good idea to explore whether the current practices in terms of insuring drivers while they are on the job are fully sufficient.

That being said, it’s still a very good idea for Uber and Lyft customers to exercise their own caution when taking advantage of a ridesharing service.  Background checks, performed either by companies or government entities, are no substitute for basic common sense. If a driver seems to be behaving erratically, smells of alcohol or another suspicious substance, or any other danger signs seem to present itself, think before you make your next move. In other words, if something about a ridesharing driver seems fishy, there’s no law that says you have to get into their car.

First Impressions Count

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An article we stumbled over from a Charlotte, North Carolina TV station points out an interesting and potentially important distinction between the two best known ridesharing services, Uber and Lyft. The article, which discusses the safety practices of the two transportation giants, notes that both companies perform background checks, but Lyft conducts in-person interviews with drivers, including taking a look at their vehicles, while Uber does not.

So, does this make an important difference in terms of preventing possible personal injuries, not just due to collisions, but also to violence? After all, there have been a number of highly reported incidents involved alleged assaults by ridesharing drivers. While the odds of finding a driver who is either an overtly dangerous driver or violent are pretty low, as attorneys who take on a number of Lyft and Uber cases, we have to wonder if the in-person interview and inspection might be a safety plus. Certainly, a driver interviewed in the article would say yes.

“I think it’s pretty important. I’d feel much more comfortable if my wife or my sister is needing a ride, I’d feel much better if they were in a Lyft ride compared to an Uber because I know someone has put eyeballs on who the driver is.”

As anyone who’s ever been involved in conducting job interviews knows, it’s a far from perfect promise. People can make an excellent impression while hiding obvious issues that become all too apparent after they get the job; it also is definitely true that someone who might be an otherwise top-notch fit for a position might be lose out to someone else because of poor interview skills or because of the idiosyncratic preferences of the interviewer. On the other hand, job interviews can make a big difference in that, at the very least, they should screen out people with obvious personal issues – such as clear emotional instability or drug issues – that might make them an unsafe choice for a driver. Our involvement with Uber and Lyft is as lawyers, not statisticians. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if Lyft’s practices don’t have some important safety benefits.

Uber and Lyft Drivers: Strength in Numbers?

Uber and Lyft Drivers: Strength in Numbers?

As the Thanksgiving holidays loomed in late November, some controversy was brewing in Seattle regarding a move to allow Seattle Uber and Lyft drivers to vote in a union election. Spokespeople for Uber and Lyft were arguing that, since the only drivers eligible would have to have logged at least 52 rides over the course of three months, the move would deprive more occasional drivers of their rights in the situation.

Unions have played a major role in many industries since the 19th century and, pretty obviously, opinions still differ widely on their overall effect on the economy and individuals. Regardless, the issues brought up by this matter are pretty interesting to those of us who are involved on the personal injury side of the equation.

Specifically, it will be interesting to see how the issue of insurance would play out among ridesharing drivers who were members of a union. A union could seek to bargain for an even higher amount of coverage for drivers while on the job; that might go even higher than the $1,000,000 they typically carry at present. Right now, drivers who are injured in the course of an accident where the other driver was at fault might be able to obtain sums that more correctly address their needs in the wake of a serious incident.

Of course, there are a great many issues that are brought up by the possibility of unionized ridesharing drivers that might well increase costs for what have become billion dollar companies, not to mention the Uber and Lyft customers who have grown accustomed to fares that are a small fraction of what cabdrivers typically charge.

Nevertheless, people who are injured in accidents that are the fault of another should be as fairly compensated as possible. So, as lawyers who are often involved in Uber and Lyft cases, it’s a trend worth noting.

Total Recall

A highly detailed investigation by a number of TV stations shows that, whether you’re getting into an Uber, Lyft, or an old-fashioned cab, you stand a roughly one in three chance of getting into a car that still needs to have recall work performed on it. The study looked at thousands of cabs and ridesharing vehicles by comparing vehicle identification numbers (VIN numbers) and recall information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This means that, every time you step into a cab or rideshared vehicle, it’s very possible that the car may not be completely safe to drive. Granted, most of the recalls are for relatively minor problems. At the same time, however, some of these issues are like the well-publicized Takata airbag recall, which poses risks of serious injuries to passengers as metal pieces may become projectiles in the event of a collision.

From a passenger’s point of view, the investigation notes that there’s not much that we can do to protect ourselves, other than being aware of the issue, wearing seatbelts, and perhaps choosing to sit in the back seat. Cab and ridesharing drivers, however, are a different story. It’s incumbent on them to ensure that their vehicle has had any federally required recall work performed on it. Aside from the obvious safety and moral issues, failure to do so could be extremely costly. While recall work is not a legal requirement in Los Angeles and most other major cities, one lawyer quoted in the study notes that it’s nevertheless true that insurance companies may refuse to provide coverage in the event of an accident if they discover a recall repair was not made

In any case, there’s absolutely no reason for professional drivers not to take the trouble to ensure that any recalls on their vehicles have been handled. It’s the responsible and smart thing to do.