The Montana Legislature has passed a law opening the door for Uber, the smartphone app-based ride- sharing service, to begin doing business in the state. The new law did away with provisions of existing law that gave taxi and limousine companies the ability to block competition. In addition, it established a specific type of vehicle operator’s license that covers rideshare providers. Uber brings together a patchwork of everyday drivers, via smartphone, who can be called upon at a moment’s notice to provide a ride to a customer.
As with most human endeavors, the advent of ride-sharing services will be accompanied by legal issues that will impact Montanans. Legal concerns can be expected in the realms of employer-employee relationships, liability for injuries or death, and criminal acts committed by drivers. Other states where such services are already established have begun seeing the legal ripple effects of their presence.
One of the first considerations will be for those Montanans who become drivers for Uber or another ride-sharing company. Those companies engage drivers as independent contractors, which means the drivers will have no employment benefits such as health insurance, workers’ compensation coverage, contributions to Social Security, and automatic income tax withholding. In addition, those drivers, in the absence of the employee relationship, will have to comply with Internal Revenue Service self- employment tax regulations.
Liability for personal injury resulting from accidents or wrongful acts by drivers will also affect victims as well as drivers. Again, at the heart of this issue is the independent contractor status of drivers. If truly independent contractors, the drivers, rather than the company, will be liable for personal injury or wrongful acts. This could affect how much plaintiffs might recover and could also severely impact drivers’ insurance coverage.
Other states are already seeing these legal realities of ride-sharing occur. In California, Uber was challenged by a driver seeking compensation for various employee expenses, the result being a decision by the California Labor Commission that the driver was an employee rather than a contractor. Also, in California, Uber was sued after a driver struck and killed a six-year-old girl allegedly while the driver was using the Uber app. In Vermont, a suit was filed by a rider who alleged she was sexually assaulted by an Uber driver.
The attorneys at Tipp & Buley are ready to aggressively pursue cutting-edge legal issues such as rideshare services that affect you. We understand the employer-employee relationship and have handled numerous personal injury claims. To schedule a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers, call our Missoula law office at 406-389-4215 or visit our website.