A sheriff’s cruiser and an Uber car collided recently at a busy intersection in Seminole County, resulting in the death of the 28-year-old passenger who was catching a ride home after a holiday party.
The Florida Highway Patrol has launched an investigation into the fatal crash, which claimed the life of Orlando native Corey Allicock, the vehicle’s only passenger. Neither the law enforcement officer, Deputy Scott Sullivan, or Uber driver, 73-year-old Robert Williams, have been cited at this juncture, though the inquiry remains active.
This tragic incidents opens the door to questions about who pays when an Uber driver is involved in a crash. The answer is one that has evolved in recent years, as Uber and other ride-sharing services have gained traction throughout Florida and the country.
Uber, and its smaller competitor Lyft, returned to Broward County in October, following a favorable commission vote prompted by an outpouring of demand by the public. The companies had previously been banned under tight local regulations for paid rides.
The organizations connect riders to drivers via smart phone applications. This has been somewhat vexing in a number of legal arenas, including personal injury law. These operations insist they aren’t “ride companies” but rather “technology companies.” Drivers are independent contractors, and thus driver negligence wouldn’t be the responsibility of the company. But these drivers don’t have commercial licenses, and a flood of insurance companies insisted they weren’t going to pay for the negligence of their insureds who were operating their vehicles with passengers for profit. Now, every ride-sharing service has its own degree of insurance coverage, though its application depends on the circumstances.
UberX, for example, which is an application that uses non-commercial drivers, pays commercial liability insurance up to $1 million and uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage benefits of up to $1 million. But those only apply if the driver is en route to pick up a passenger or is driving a passenger. If the driver is logged in and waiting for a ride request, the company will offer contingent liability coverage with 50/100/25 limits, to the extent they aren’t covered by the driver’s own personal policy.
In this case, the issue of coverage will depend on who was at-fault in the crash. If the Uber driver was at-fault for running a red light at the intersection, it will likely be Uber’s insurance that will pay. On the contrary, if the deputy was at-fault, the local government will probably be liable to pay. However, that will come with a host of its own issues and challenges, as government employees and agencies are protected under a number of legal doctrines, including sovereign immunity. Even if it’s determined that sovereign immunity for this action is waived, the most a plaintiff could collect would be $200,000, unless there is special approval from the state legislature.
Deputy Sullivan, according to the Orlando Sentinel, had been involved in a chase that ended in a crash at that very same intersection just hours before this auto accident. He was attempting to pull over an allegedly drunk driver who fled. A passenger jumped from the moving vehicle, and Sullivan stopped to render aid to the passenger while other deputies continued pursuit. The driver crashed several blocks away, but was not injured.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Man killed after crash between Uber car, Seminole cruiser, Dec. 14, 2015, By Elyssa Cherney, Orlando Sentinel
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