Another incident involving a rideshare service came to light in San Francisco last week, which causes me some additional concern that rideshare companies may not be screening their drivers as well as the should. As you may remember, the rideshare company Uber has been the focus of a controversy involving the death of a young girl who was struck by a driver on New Years Eve. Now Lyft, another such service, is feeling the heat after a video surfaced depicting a Lyft driver punching a pedestrian.
The question is, who’s at fault? And more importantly, should Lyft be held accountable for the actions of its drivers while they are on the clock or in between passenger runs?
Because these rideshare services are not taxis, and they are relatively new to the City, it is still unclear who is at fault in the event of injury. If a taxi driver injures a rider or pedestrian, both the taxi driver and the company are at fault. But what about a driver acting as a contractor for a rideshare company? And, if in the case of the Uber fatal pedestrian accident, the driver is between calls, then who is responsible.
Now we have a situation where a Lyft driver gets into an altercation with a pedestrian that turns physical. Is the driver at fault? The company? Or both?
Many, including the city’s taxi drivers, think the company should be liable whenever the driver is in a car used for passenger transport.But would that be fair if a rideshare driver was just driving to the market to pick up a carton of milk? I personally believe that there is too much room to obfuscate about whether a driver was on a rideshare mission or not at the time of any specific crash. With a marked taxicab, any time that cab is in a crash, the commercial policy kicks in and the cab company is accountable. How do we know whether a particular driver was on the clock if there is no passenger is in the back? I believe that the entire rideshare scenario is a fiction aimed at avoiding the overhead of traditional cab companies. While I am often not a big fan of taxi drivers either, at least there are adequate regulations to help protect the public. It seems to me that the rideshare companies and their drivers just want to avoid obeying regulations that would make their business more expensive. I am all for free enterprise, as long as the public safety is maintained.
On Tuesday, January 14th, a former taxi cab driver was filming a Lyft car in the City, illegally parked on the side of the street, when a fight broke out between the former cab driver and the Lyft contractor. According to the former cab driver, too many of these TNCs are behaving inappropriately in the city, parking in crosswalks, blocking ramps, and in front of fire hydrants, and he was attempting to document the Lyft infraction.
The Lyft driver struck the man filming, but was not actively working for Lyft when the incident occurred.
TNCs are required to register for permits with the state’s public utility commission but are not required to register with SFMTA, the agency that oversees taxi cabs in San Francisco.
Although the driver was not actively working for Lyft at the time, Lyft and all TNC/rideshare services need to be held accountable for their contractors, especially if they are displaying the company’s logo to imply affiliation. The fact that the driver left the pink mustache (a Lyft symbol) on the front of the car should be more than an indication of affiliation and employment. With more TNC/rideshare services entering the marketplace and flooding our city streets each day, we need to take measures to ensure accountability and responsibility. They may provide the city a unique and important service, but should not be hurting our residents as a result. Could anyone say that the altercation between the Lyft driver and the former taxi driver was not related to the Lyft business?
The rideshare companies say sometimes that they are “just an app”. Well, the Uber app is worth a fortune, yet they say that they are not a cab company. Lawyers are often accused of using loop holes. Shouldn’t we tighten up the loopholes where ridesharing is concerned?
Claude A. Wyle is a partner of Choulos Choulos, and Wyle, a San Francisco based law firm dedicated to representing clients who have been injured by the wrongful conduct of individuals, corporations, public entities, and businesses. Mr. Wyle also frequently sits as a Judge Pro Tem for the city and county of San Francisco.