The new economy is characterized by independent contracting “gigs,” that often supplant full time jobs.
Workers earn an income that otherwise might be impossible. Companies have access to an outside source of labor that they can afford. Even the public benefits because it retains services that might be cut off in times of economic uncertainty.
Yet, things get problematic when a contractor has an accident. Just who bears the responsibility for the resulting damages is unclear. If the contractor were an employee, it would be the company. As an independent worker for hire, the situation is murkier.
This is one of the key reasons that some Alabama jurisdictions have been against the entrance of Uber, a private, independent, ride service, into their areas. The liability of an Uber driver involved in a traffic accident in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia Counties is an issue now that the company has initiated service in southern Alabama. Contacting an Alabama accident attorney should be your first step if injured in such an accident as these cases are unique and complex.
What is Uber?
Uber is a driving service that allows users to locate a ride on their mobile devices. Via the Uber app, customers can contact an Uber driver, who uses his or her personal vehicle. The two decide the payment amount upfront, rather than by meter, as is true with public taxis. Consequently, Uber acts merely as the agent, matching passengers and drivers. A class D license is sufficient for Uber drivers.
The company maintains that its drivers are not employees and that it cannot be held responsible for injuries unless they are those of a paying passenger.
Alabama Insurance Law
Alabama is a “fault” liability state. This distinction means that after an accident, that the courts place the blame upon the party responsible, which affects the amount paid out in damages. Those injured can thus file a claim against:
- the other driver
- the other driver’s insurance company
- their own insurance provider
Motorists, in general, must have minimum liability insurance to cover the cost of property damage and medical bills in the case of an accident, provides Alabama Code 32–7-22.
The general insurance coverage under 32-7-22:
- $25,000 for bodily injury or death per person
- $50,000 total for bodily injury or death per accident
- $25,000 for property damage
Public taxis in the city of Mobile area must possess additional insurance in the amount of $1 million per vehicle. Uber drivers have only to possess the minimum liability amounts, listed above. Given that the uninsured rate has been upwards of 22% in recent years, relying on independent drivers to be fully insured causes concern among some Alabamians.
Prevailing Case Law
The California Labor Commissioner has deemed Uber drivers employees in some regards. For example, drivers are allowed to apply for workers compensation in that state. As of yet, Alabama courts have not considered the status of Uber drivers as the service is still relatively new here.
Uber in Mobile, Alabama
Despite successful efforts in Birmingham to prevent Uber from establishing a stronghold, the Mobile City Council has decided to welcome the service to the area.
The Council respected the non-traditional employee-employer relationship by acknowledging Uber as a non-regulated driving service. Uber drivers do not have to comply with the insurance requirements required of licensed taxis.
Uber’s Driver Liability
Uber drivers, as independent contractors, hold the primary responsibility for accidents. Theoretically, they must pay for damages arising from their personal actions on the road, unless done while transporting a passenger. This fact poses a problem for some Alabamians as the law does not require these drivers to possess insurance coverage beyond that of other private individuals.
Getting Professional Help
It is a wise move for anyone using the Uber app to hitch a ride, to be aware of the prevailing law. Since the rules change periodically, those injured in an accident using a driving service should speak with a local Alabama auto accident attorney about the best course of action. Noel B. Leonard is a Foley injury lawyer who represents accident victims regularly. His practice focuses heavily on automotive accidents and maintains an up to date understand of how driving laws and liability can impact your case, even in situations which are unique and new to our area. If you’ve been seriously injured in an automotive accident in Baldwin, Escambia, or Mobile Counties, do not hesitate to contact Noel today 251-732-2701 or contact him online to schedule a consultation.