PART 1 - OUTSIDE OF YOUR VEHICLE
Disclaimer - all legal information and analysis is based on Virginia law, and if you are involved in an accident in Maryland or D.C. the laws may vary.
Many people think that ride-share driving only entails driving a vehicle and nothing more, but if you or anyone you know is a ride-share driver, you know this is certainly not accurate. Throughout any given day, a ride-share driver does much more than just drive his/her vehicle. Below is a list of different tasks that a ride-share driver will typically undertake at any given time.
1. A ride-share driver helps people load their luggage into the back of their car when the passenger(s) are heading to and from an airport, train station, or bus station.
2. A ride-share driver helps handicapped passengers safely enter and exit her/his vehicle.
3. A ride-share driver may help escort the elderly or the handicapped to and from their vehicle.
4. A ride-share driver helps passengers accommodate for their service animals.
5. A ride-share driver parks his/her car on the sides of busy city streets and delivers food orders to hungry people at their houses and apartments.
6. A ride-share driver helps shoppers unload and load packages and bags in and out of their car.
These are just a few of the things a ride-share driver does while on the clock that do not involve actually driving her/his vehicle. One other very important aspect about the different tasks listed above that a ride-share driver undertakes, is that these tasks all involve getting out of his/her vehicle.
So what happens if you are performing one of the above mentioned tasks as a ride-share driver, and you get hit by someone else who does not have adequate insurance coverage, or any coverage at all, and as a result of the collision, you are severely injured? Will your uninsured or under-insured policy coverage kick in, in order to cover your injuries? Will the law protect you? Let us briefly explore some case law...
First, I will start by explaining exactly what Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Under-insured Motorist (UIM) insurance coverage is for anyone that may be unfamiliar. UM coverage is insurance coverage provided by your own insurance policy in case you suffer damages in an accident, and the person at fault for this accident does not have adequate insurance coverage. UIM coverage is insurance coverage provided by your own insurance policy in case you suffer damages in an accident and the person at fault for the accident has less than adequate insurance coverage to compensate you for your damages. I will keep this simple and not expand on these two types of coverages here, but know that these types of coverages are extremely important, because so many drivers on the road are driving without insurance or with very low coverage limits and as a result people quite often have to use these types of coverages from their own insurance policy. (If you ever have any questions or need recommendations regarding your insurance policy/policies please reach out to me)
So now lets look at what the law requires in order for your own insurance policy to be used in case the person at fault does not have adequate coverage. The Supreme Court of Virginia has stated in prior cases that “if an injured person is using the insured vehicle as a vehicle and as an integral part of his mission when he is injured, he is entitled to UM/UIM coverage.” Plainly, what does this mean for ride-share drivers? It means that if you are using your vehicle for the above stated reasons then you are likely going to be covered, now if you choose to use it for a purpose outside the scope of your ride-share employment, then you may run into a grey area, where coverage could potentially be denied, but again this is fact specific and needs to be analyzed on a case by case basis.
So yes, if you are delivering food to a hungry person with Uber eats and upon entering or exiting a vehicle you are hit by someone else, you will likely be covered. If you are helping someone get in or out of your vehicle and you are struck, then you will likely also be covered. Ultimately, you do not need to be driving your vehicle in order to be covered under your UM/UIM policy, but you do need to be using your vehicle as an “integral” part of your mission. If you decide to pull over to light up a cigarette and take a break, then chances are you will not be covered.
Here are some examples of prior situations where people were allowed to use UM/UIM coverage in Virginia.
1. A highway worker who had stepped out of his vehicle to place cones on a roadway was allowed to use UM coverage from his own vehicle when he was struck by another vehicle.
2. A firefighter who had stepped out of his firetruck to attend to a scene was allowed to use UM coverage after being struck by another vehicle.
There is one major issue that needs to be addressed for ride-share drivers though in order to make sure that they can obtain coverage in case of a situation like the ones listed above. The issue rests with an old archaic law in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia and that law is contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is a law in the DMV that states that if both parties are at fault to any degree then neither party may recover. This means that if you as a ride-share driver are 1 percent at fault for an accident, and the other driver is 99 percent at fault, then you the ride-share driver will be completely barred from recovering. So how do you account for this law, and what should you do to ensure you are not in violation?
As a ride-share driver, you should always make sure that whenever you have to pull over to get out of your vehicle to complete whatever task you have, you should always make sure that you are pulled over in an area that is allowed. I recognize that this is difficult and cannot always be done, but always try your best because you never know when a careless driver may strike you or your vehicle. Additionally, follow and know other road rules to avoid becoming a victim to this old and archaic law, and to avoid being denied coverage.
Lastly, one other piece of information that may be very beneficial for you, is knowing when to swipe to “virtually pick up” the passenger on your cell phone. Most ride-share companies have two different types of coverage amounts, the first type of coverage is without passengers and the second type of coverage is with passengers. If you do not have a passenger in your vehicle, then your insurance coverage is quite often the minimum limits required by the jurisdiction that you are in. In the case of Virginia, your insurance coverage at the minimum limits is $25,000. Now, if you have passenger(s) in your vehicle, then your coverage often jumps anywhere from $500,000 to $1,000,000. This means that if you want to protect yourself as much as possible using your ride-share coverage, you should always swipe to pick up your passenger(s) once you find him/her/them. DO NOT WAIT TO DO THIS. And yes, ride-share companies are only concerned with protecting you when you have other people in the vehicle.
I hope this information has been helpful to my fellow ride-share drivers, and as always if you have any questions or concerns, or would like advice regarding a specific matter, reach out to me, I am always happy to assist. AND NO I WILL NOT CHARGE YOU FOR LEGAL ADVICE.