Uber taxi service poses new liability challenges

This article first appeared on Bizcommunity.com on 13 July, 2015
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Questions around passenger liability have been raised when making use of Uber, the real-time cab sharing application and taxi service.
According to Lizette Erasmus, head of insurance expertise at IntegriSure, the rise of services like Uber can be credited to more individuals seeing this as a safer transport alternative, especially in high-risk situations such as after consuming alcohol, or at odd hours of the evening.

“The liability challenges lie in that when an accident does occur, it becomes difficult to determine where accountability lies. Insurance companies need to carefully reassess policies provided in this instance. In the same way, policy holders – whether they are passengers or drivers – need to ensure that they have the appropriate cover in situations such as these.”

Own insurance
According to Uber, each driver contracted by the organisation is responsible for getting their own passenger liability insurance, as they are independent contractors.

“This type of insurance protects the passenger, should the driver be deemed liable for the cause of an accident,” Erasmus explains.

“It is important that every Uber driver has this type of policy in place for business purposes, as opposed to personal purposes. This is to ensure full passenger protection, as well as their personal financial protection.” There have been incidents in certain countries where insurance providers denied the claims of drivers due to them only being in possession of personal cover and not business liability insurance, which means the drivers in question were forced to cover the costs of damages directly out of their own pockets.

In a break-through USA case, however, a Californian court found that Uber drivers are not contractors, but can be defined as employees. As a result, this case found that the Uber organisation itself, rather than the drivers, may be liable for insurance payments.

Legislative changes
“Rulings like this could change the responsibility matrix in terms of who the passenger can hold liable for any damage that may occur, and indicate potential legislative changes which could take place locally in the future,” says Erasmus.

“With the spotlight on Uber in South Africa at the moment, the conversation around liability is indeed a crucial one for both drivers and passengers, while clarity on how both drivers and users of the Uber service can ensure they are fully protected is set to be a key point of focus,” she concludes.

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