Uber and insurance


Shortly before midnight on a Tuesday night in March, a black Lincoln Town Car was heading south on Divisadero Street in San Francisco at the same time a Dodge Charger was approaching from the opposite direction. The accident that occurred next is a fairly common one: the Town Car was preparing for a left-hand turn as the Charger neared the intersection. The two cars collided along their front driver’s side bumpers (at varying speeds, depending on who’s doing the telling in the police report).

The next couple of moments are the weird ones. The Charger then careened through the intersection, sheared a fire hydrant off the ground, knocked over a tree and barreled into another one. A five-story tall geyser erupted from the corner as the hydrant flew up the sidewalk and struck a pedestrian. When police arrived, it was found lying 81 feet away.

As you might imagine, the front of the Dodge was badly damaged. The driver is now suing the driver of the Town Car, a vehicle with livery plates operated under the company SF Limo Car Service. The pedestrian, who broke her leg and injured her back, is suing both drivers. She is also suing – and this is what makes this crash particularly interesting – the transportation-tech company Uber.


The whole chain of liability is a mess: A pedestrian was struck by a fire hydrant that was struck by a private vehicle that was struck by a Town Car whose driver had a contract with Uber – but no actual Uber passenger in the back seat. But the terribly fluky accident raises some more straight-forward questions, too: Just what does happen if you’re an Uber passenger in the middle of an accident, or the driver behind the wheel of someone else’s car on RelayRides, or the passenger who’s riding along during a collision on Lyft? Who will take care of you?

See here for my previous Uber blogging. Read the whole Atlantic Cities story, it’s worth your time. Locally, the cab companies in Houston have raised the insurance issue as the debate over Uber continues. Uber for its part maintains that it only contracts with licensed drivers that have their own insurance, so these questions should not involve them. As the story notes, however, Uber’s app puts Uber branding on the cars and drivers, so the matter is more complicated than that. I’ll be very interested to see how the litigation goes.

On a completely tangential matter, the North Central Texas Council of Governments is embarking on a discussion about Uber and other new transportation-enabling technology services like Lyft, and how to deal with their local cab codes to accommodate them (or not). As with the lawsuit above, it will be very interesting to see how that shakes out.

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