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Ride-share liability issues, part 1: a fatal pedestrian accident

Ride-sharing has emerged as an important new way of getting many people in California from point A to point B.

No longer are private cars, taxis and public transportation the only options. With network companies to arrange and handle payment for rides for smartphone-equipped travelers, an entirely new transportation service model has opened up.

California formalized this reality last September by giving ride-sharing firms permission to operate. These firms are also known as transportation network companies.

The liability of such companies for car accidents, however, still needs to be clarified. In this two-part post, we will discuss that issue.

We will begin by taking note of a terrible accident that has raised the issue more starkly than ever before. On New Year's Eve, a driver for Uber, one of the new ride-share companies, struck and killed a pedestrian in San Francisco and injured two others.

The pedestrian who died was a 6-year-old girl.

The driver was alone in the car at the time he hit the girl and two other members of her family. Pointing to this fact, the ride-share company asserted that its insurance did not apply.

But does the fact that there were no passengers at that moment mean that a ride-share company is off the hook? The family of the girl who died believes it does not. The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Uber, asserting that the driver who caused the fatal accident was on the ride-share company's network when he hit the girl.

Under California regulations, ride-share companies that facilitate the use of a private car for a fee-paying passenger must have at least $1 million in liability insurance. As we will discuss in part two of this post, however, it must be clarified when ride-share drivers and their cars are covered by that policy.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "California regular warns about gaps in ride-sharing insurnace," Marc Lifsher and Salvador Rodriquez, Feb. 5, 2014

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