Monthly Archives:' December 2016

Hit and Miss

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A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune describes some pretty dramatic and scary holes in background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers in the Twin Cities area.  For example…

Among those approved to drive here: convicted felons, drivers with as many as four drunken driving convictions and men convicted of crimes related to assaulting their wives and girlfriends. Most continue to drive for the companies, which now provide more rides in the Twin Cities than traditional taxis.

It’s a startling reality and one that may have paved the way for a number of alarming incidents. At the same time, however, the companies insist they follow local standards and exercise appropriate discretion in their selection of drivers. Even so, after the Star Tribune gave its findings to the ridesharing companies and area officials, a number of drivers were removed and both companies say they are doing what they can to prevent future lapses.

Of course, background checks, whether in Minneapolis or Los Angeles are never going to be completely foolproof. As Uber and Lyft accident attorneys, we can only comment that it’s a very good thing that they provide their drivers with about $1 million worth of insurance to cover liability when they are responsible for a crash, as well as uninsured/under-insured motorist to cover cases where another party is at fault.

Obviously, it’s very important for them to improve their screening to prevent allowing drivers with recent DUIs and any assault convictions from driving for them. Nevertheless, it’s also a good thing that they are also keeping their drivers very well insured.

Sin City Transformation

When people think of Las Vegas, they think of gambling, drinking, and other things our mothers would rather not have us doing. But, almost as much as cities like New York and Chicago, taxi cabs have long been a part of Sin City’s scintillating culture. As an article in the Las Vegas Review Journal points out, however, that is probably changing.

The piece notes that rideshare giants Uber and Lyft appear to be cutting into the business of cabs in a major way, with taxi trips being reduced by some 19.2 percent between November of 2016 and 2015. Local regulators are also apparently crying foul, arguing that fees and licensing are not being handled fairly.

It’s hard to say whether or not the taxi industry will be able to fight back, but they do seem like underdogs right now. Lyft and Uber are incredibly convenient and nimble services and, of course, substantially less expensive than cabs, though that might change in the future.

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Even so, the change might not be completely for the better. There are always trade-offs.  First, there is the cultural issue. Taxi drivers are professionals and have a certain way of looking at things that can make them valuable beyond simply getting from place to place. If you’re over a certain age, there’s a good chance you have some fond memories of chats with colorful cab drivers. We’re not saying that ridesharing drivers can’t also be colorful characters, but the fact that they largely tend to be part-timers trying to earn some extra cash, rather than full-time professionals, makes them somewhat less of a breed apart.

More seriously, of course, with more lenient requirements for Uber and Lyft drivers, personal injuries could begin to increase over time. While many agencies are arguing to heighten screening requirements, and that might help, there is one more saving grace that we often tend to hark back to. That’s the fact that, as billion dollar companies, Uber and Lyft provide quite a bit of insurance coverage for their drivers: roughly $1 million to cover their own liability and uninsured/underinsured motorists who may be at fault. While it’s obviously much better to avoid a personal injury than to have to be compensated for one, it’s at least good to know that it’s there if you need it.

Uber and Lyft as Public Transportation?

An article on Slate describes how some public transportation systems around the nation are offering discounted Uber rides. It then goes on to express some highly detailed concern with the practice, which writer Henry Grabar is alleging is being used as a sort of stopgap substitute for more traditional mass transit. He adds that the ride hailing companies like Uber and its biggest competitor, Lyft, are currently operating at a loss, despite their multi-billion dollar valuations. He speculates that much higher fares are likely coming for riders at some point in the future. At that point, they might not seem like such a convenient add-on to mass transit.

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Interesting but what, if anything, does it mean for riders in the here and now? For the time being, at least, the ridesharing giants will continue working hard to attract more ridership via discounts and other promotions, and to avoid any bad public relations.  For those of us concerned about personal injury law, this means that they will most likely continue to carry significantly more insurance on behalf of their drivers than most individuals are willing to pay for.  The vast majority of ridesharing experiences will remain about as pleasant and efficient as they are at present.

However, mass transit is also an important public good, especially here in the traffic-clogged Greater Los Angeles area. As the Slate article said, Uber and Lyft rides can definitely be effective for solving what is known as “the last mile problem.” Still, for those of who believe in public transportation, there may be times when it wouldn’t hurt us to explore ways to avoid using that Uber ride for the last mile. Sometimes, there are shorter-range options – like the DASH buses in Downtown L.A. and elsewhere.  And there are those funny contraptions at the bottom of our legs. We like to call to call them “feet”!

Is the Best Uber Driver No Uber Driver?

So, Slash Gear is reporting that Uber is opening up an AI (artificial intelligence) lab in, where else, San Francisco. According to the article, the ridesharing giant will be creating a standalone division to be called Uber AI Labs, which will be dedicated not only to the self-driving cars we’ve been hearing so much about for the last few years, but will also go deeper into how electronic devices can move about a world and deal with all the unpredictable factors it can throw up – particularly the funny things that we human beings so often do.  This would include not only cars, but all sorts of other vehicles including, we imagine, aerial drones, automatic pilots, and the like. But, let’s stick to cars on this one.

Is the Best Uber Driver No Uber Driver?

Of course, from the point of view of personal injury lawyers, the most interesting aspect of this is what happens in the fairly inevitable event of an injury accident involving these kinds of vehicles. We’ve already seen some serious collisions involving driverless cars but, as the numbers of these cars slowly increase over the next several years, we’re going to start seeing some very interesting situations. For example, because we tend to think of humans as being inherently prone to make errors, many of us may assume that they will typically be the at fault party in a collision – but that could turn out to be an incorrect assumption.

There may well be cases where other drivers or pedestrians are following all of the rules of the road and may still wind up being injured, in which case the robot (i.e., the software) driving the car would actually be at fault. Of course, in a case like that, the company that owned the vehicle would be the financially responsible party. In other words, Uber would be very well advised to only hire the best and brightest minds to staff its AI Labs. Errors could be costly.

Beyond Uber and Lyft?

It seems that just about every American city has its own special relationship with the big ridesharing companies, Uber and Lyft. Austin, Texas might be among the most interesting. That’s because, right now, it has no relationship with either company; the companies both left town after a ballot proposition sponsored by them failed. Now , as recounted in a lengthy piece in Curbed, the term “wild west” is being used because a number of smaller ridesharing companies have popped up to fill the void, and some of the cars reportedly carry stickers for several of these at a time.

Beyond Uber and Lyft

As you might imagine, there are some pluses and minuses associated with the situation. Riders are often paying lower costs than they would have with the ridesharing giants, and many of the drivers say they prefer their new bosses because of better wages and other benefits.

One issue, however, the article does not address is the matter of liability. As billion dollar national companies, Uber and Lyft are able to provide roughly $1 million in liability and in uninsured and underinsured driver coverage for their drivers while they are on the job. This can benefit both victims of accidents where rideshare drivers are at fault, but also drivers who are involved in collisions where another driver is legally responsible. It also means, of course, that passengers who are injured in accidents where either driver is at fault may be able to obtain higher amounts of compensation than might otherwise be possible.

This also means that smaller companies may not be able to afford large amounts of insurance coverage and, with fewer assets, they may also be less motivated to.  Here in California, where Uber and Lyft completely dominate the market, it might be an academic question. But in Austin, Texas at least, it seems likely that personal injury victims might not be among the beneficiaries of the city’s wild west ridesharing culture.