This week’s question comes from Phillip B. in Mountain View who asks, “My girlfriend was riding in an Uber vehicle in Southern California when the car was hit by a truck that was changing lanes. The Uber driver did nothing to cause the accident. The truck never stopped and no one got a license plate number or other identifying information. She was hurt in the collision, has racked up medical bills and missed time from work. She is going to have a tough recovery time. At the time of the collision she was riding with a friend who had the Uber account. Can she seek compensation for what happened to her and if so, from who?”
Phillip, I hope your girlfriend makes a speedy recovery. The answer to the question you ask involves the area of law regarding uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage which is somewhat complex.
Based on your description, the responsible party appears to be the truck driver. In the situation you presented the responsible party has left the scene so, without some way to identify who they were and/or what company they work for, there is no way to hold them accountable. Had someone been able to identify the company which owned the truck they could have been held responsible for the acts of their employee under the “master servant” doctrine referred to in Latin (many principles in law have Latin names) as respondeat superior.
When the responsible party cannot be identified, or they have no insurance then, depending on the insurance coverage purchased by the party not at fault, an injured party can turn to their uninsured motorist coverage to compensate them for the full extent of their injuries to the same degree that they would have been able to recover from the responsible party if they had insurance. The uninsured motorist insurer has the right to raise any and all defenses that the responsible party would have. It is somewhat unusual as the insurance company has both the responsibility to fairly compensate its customer while simultaneously advocating to pay them the lowest amount they can. If the insured and insurance company cannot come to an agreement for fair compensation the parties, under the terms of their contract, have the dispute handled through arbitration rather than through a public jury trial.
Under-insured motorist coverage acts in many respects like uninsured motorist coverage with the difference being that underinsured motorist coverage comes into play when the responsible party is identifiable and has insurance but the insurance is insufficient to compensate the injured party for the full extent of their losses. If, for example, the responsible party had $15,000 in insurance, the injuries were in excess of $150,000, and the injured party had a $100,000 uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, the injured party can seek up to $85,000 from their own carrier.
If the math seems a bit off, with you wondering why the injured party can’t seek up to $100,000 from their $100,000 policy, it’s because insurance companies exert significant financial influence in politics with massive political contributions that have legislators scared of them.
The Consumer Attorneys of California (which I was president of in 2010) has, in the past, introduced legislation to have the law changed to match that which exists in most other states where the insurance limits of both policies could added together to provide up to $115,000.00 in coverage.
Each time trial lawyers have tried to make this change to benefit insurance policy holders; the insurance companies have spent huge sums of money and have flooded the State Capital with lobbyists to kill the pro-consumer legislation.
As a result of legislation which was introduced by Assembly Member Susan Bonilla (AB 2293), which I, and the Consumer Attorneys of California participated in through its drafting and signature by the Governor. The law mandates that Uber and Lyft must carry $1,000,000 in underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage for their drivers.
Therefore your girlfriend should be able to recover for her injuries under this policy. She should contact Uber who will put her in touch with their insurer, James River. She should also reach out to a trial lawyer who handles personal injury claims to help her navigate these rules.
It’s important for anyone who is involved with a hit and run driver to immediately call the police and make contact with their insurance company promptly. Failure to do so may violate the terms of the insurance policy resulting in the inability to recover under the policy.
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