According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety’s most recent Traffic Collision Fact Book, one traffic accident occurs every 4.4 minutes in South Carolina. These crashes result in approximately one injury every 15.4 minutes. Because car accidents are so prevalent in our state, every South Carolina driver is legally required to carry insurance. The law mandates that each driver hold at least $25,000.00 of both liability coverage and uninsured motorist coverage. Liability insurance is designed to pay for damages and injuries that the policyholder causes to other parties, while uninsured motorist coverage pays for damages and injuries that the policyholder suffers due to accidents caused by uninsured drivers. But who ends up paying when an Uber driver (or another ride sharing company’s driver) gets into an accident in South Carolina? This article briefly addresses the complicated answer to this question, however, it is important to note that each car accident is unique and that for legal advice you should contact a local car accident attorney.
The Agency Theory of Liability
Generally speaking, when an on-the-clock employee causes a car accident, both the employee and their employer can be held liable for the damages and injuries caused. This is because of the agency theory of liability. A qualifying principal-agent relationship occurs when the principal (in this case the employer) grants the agent (in this case the employee) the authority to act on their behalf in some regard. In order for this type of relationship to be formed, it is critical that the employee agrees to work under the control of the principal. This is because control is the key characteristic that distinguishes employees from independent contractors. In other words, under the agency theory of liability an employer can be held liable for the actions of its employees, but not for the actions of an independent contractor working for the employer.
Therefore, one key question that must be asked when determining liability after an Uber car accident is whether the Uber driver is legally considered to be an employee or an independent contractor. Unsurprisingly, Uber and other ridesharing companies claim that their drivers are independent contractors. However, states are currently divided on whether or not Uber drivers within their respective jurisdictions are considered employees or independent contractors. While this issue is not yet firmly settled in South Carolina, our courts look at the amount of control that Uber exercised over a particular driver in each individual case in order to determine whether or not the driver is an employee. When making this determination, South Carolina courts consider whether the employer furnished their worker with equipment, the method of payment utilized, and the established right to fire.
Uber’s Insurance Policy
If Uber turns out to be liable, or partially liable, in a particular car accident in South Carolina, Uber drivers and Uber passengers are covered under the company’s insurance plan. According to Uber’s website, the company maintains 3rd party liability coverage in South Carolina in the amounts of $50,000/$100,000/$50,000, which is primary to their drivers’ personal policies (unless a particular Uber driver has an insurance policy that recognizes ridesharing or other commercial uses). Additionally, Uber claims that in South Carolina they also maintain uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in amounts of $25,000/$50,000/$25,000, in addition to the following coverage:
- $1 million of 3rd party liability,
- $1 million of uninsured/underinsured motorist injury, and
- contingent comprehensive and collision insurance.
When Can a Car Accident Victim Turn to Uber’s Insurance Provider for Compensation?
What coverages will be available for your Uber accident claim will depend in large part on whether you were an Uber passenger or a third party (for example another driver or a pedestrian), and whether the Uber driver was (a) using his car for personal reasons, (b) available to pick up Uber passengers, or (c) carrying an Uber passenger at the time of the crash.
- The Uber Driver Was Using His Car for Personal Reasons at the Time of the Crash: An Uber driver who is simply driving around in their personal vehicle and is not available to pick up Uber passengers is not operating as employees of Uber. Therefore, if he causes a car accident, an injured passenger or third party will have to look to the Uber driver’s personal car insurance for reimbursement.
- The Uber Driver Was Available to Pick Up Uber Passengers at the Time of the Crash: An Uber driver who causes a car accident while available to pick up Uber passengers is primarily covered by his own insurance policy. However, under some circumstances Uber’s contingent liability insurance may kick in if the driver’s personal insurance is insufficient to cover the damage that the driver caused.
- The Uber Driver Was Carrying an Uber Passenger at the Time of the Crash: An Uber driver who gets into an accident while carrying an Uber passenger is most likely to be covered under Uber’s one million dollar liability coverage policy. Additionally, Uber’s one million dollar uninsured/underinsured motorist policy may be available if an uninsured driver caused the accident.
Need Legal Advice?
Anyone injured in a car accident involving an Uber driver in South Carolina should be aware that the law surrounding these types of accidents is complicated and that there may be multiple parties who can be held liable for your injuries. Here at Elrod Pope Law Firm, our determined South Carolina car accident attorneys are committed to explaining the law to our clients so that they are well informed about their legal rights and options. If you would like to discuss your case during a free initial consultation at either our Rock Hill office or Lake Wylie office, contact us today.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.