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Three Reasons for Extreme Caution When Using Ride-Share Services Like Uber and Lyft

Nationwide, we continue to hear stories about assaults, rapes, and even homicides being committed by rideshare drivers. However, we are also beginning to hear about drivers being assaulted and murdered as well. In Virginia, several key stories have highlighted the problem recently.

Recent Virginia Cases

On March 19, 2016, a Vienna, Virginia man stole an Uber driver’s keys and was later arrested for public intoxication.

On February 21, 2016, a group of intoxicated riders violently attacked a driver with a glass bottle near Arlington, Virginia.

In November 2014, an Uber driver was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault on a minor for making sexual advances on a 13-year-old Virginia Beach girl. This case resulted in a major civil action against the ridesharing company.

Why Ridesharing may be more risky than traditional taxi services

The Atlantic suggests that ridesharing is just as safe as using a taxi, but there are specific features that might suggest otherwise. The argument for ridesharing largely relies on the fact that FBI databases do not track the location of crimes (i.e. in a cab, Uber, doorstep). But in terms of overall safety, here are a few things that one should consider before using rideshare programs.

Reason for Caution #1 – Ambiguity can cause problems

In the state of Virginia, all cab drivers must apply for and obtain $125,000 minimum liability and personal injury protection insurance. More importantly, however, the taxi must clearly identify itself as such, with the words “taxi,” “cab,” or the like. This indicates to the world that the driver of the vehicle is for hire and that the person riding in the back is a customer and likely not a friend or family member. This reduces the chance of an easy getaway.

Reason for Caution #2 – Terms and Conditions are absurd

When you ride in a taxi, you have certain rights and expectations. You sign no disclaimer or waiver. You simply get in and ride. The law makes certain assumptions about such scenarios. First, the law says the driver owes you a specific set of duties. For instance, he or she owes you a duty to use reasonable care in operating the vehicle and the driver will not leave you in the middle of nowhere or defraud you. If the driver does any of these things, you can use the court system for redress, because your driver violated the duties owed to you.

When you use a rideshare service, however, you waive pretty much all of these. Consider that Uber’s terms and conditions state in part as follows:

“Uber does not guarantee the quality, suitability, safety or ability of third-party providers. You agree that the entire risk arising out of your use of the services…remains solely with you, to the maximum extent permitted under applicable law.”

Therefore, when you sign up to take a ride with this rideshare service, you are expressly saying that the company owes you no duties whatsoever. The driver could be blind, drug impaired; with a long history of violent crimes, yet you are acknowledging that this is not Uber’s problem – it is yours alone.

Reason for Caution #3 – Liability protections are nonexistent

Finally, although rideshare services do screen for recent criminal history, they are not that diligent. Likewise, they require proof of insurance in order to become a partner driver (or provider), but they have no way of knowing if you keep that insurance up-to-date or reduce liability coverage along the way. According to Uber’s terms and conditions:

“Uber shall not be liable for … punitive damages, including lost profits, lost data, personal injury, …resulting from any use of the services, even if Uber has been advised of the possibility of such damages.

When someone is seriously injured due to the negligence of another person or company, punitive damages allow for significant compensation and deter future careless or reckless conduct on the part of the defendant. Most of the time, winning against a seriously negligent defendant means proving the defendant had prior knowledge of the risk and simply disregarded it. So, if a cab driver had prior knowledge that his brakes did not work but picked up a fare, resulting in a rider’s death, this would be a strong case for punitive damages. Yet, the same case involving an Uber driver would likely result in no compensation. After all, the agreement says Uber is not responsible for anything that happens to you, even if they know it is going to happen.

Justice for Rideshare Victims

If you or someone you know has been injured by a rideshare driver, you should contact an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney who understands insurance law and can explain your rights. Similarly, if you are charged with criminal offenses relating to a rideshare service, you need aggressive representation. Simms Showers, LLP provides experienced criminal defense and personal injury services throughout Leesburg, Loudoun county and all of northern Virginia.

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