Taxicab Accidents in Austin, Texas
When customers climb into a taxi, they may assume they’re in good hands and that if an accident were to occur, a taxi company’s insurance would compensate them for their injuries. But some taxi drivers put patrons at risk, and when crashes occur, the matter of who is ultimately responsible sometimes ends up being decided in a courtroom.
If you’ve been injured in a Texas taxicab accident, don’t expect a taxi company to offer you a settlement. These businesses may try to avoid responsibility by saying a crash was the fault of a driver, and that drivers are solely to blame for a crash, because they’re independent contractors. To ensure your rights are protected, contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Liability in Taxi Crashes
Most drivers of commercial vehicles are classified as employees, whereas taxi drivers are independent contractors. Employees are covered by company insurance policies when driving, but independent contractors may have only their individual insurance policies.
Texas law looks at certain factors to determine whether a worker is an employee or a contractor, including:
- Set hours – An employee has set hours or may be on-call. A contractor decides when to work.
- Providing reports – An employee may be required to provide regular progress reports (such as a commercial hours-of-service log), whereas contractors are not required to make reports.
- Equipment – Employees are provided with all the equipment needed to do their job (for example, a commercial truck). Independent contractors provide their own equipment (or in the case of taxi drivers, pay a fee to a taxi company in order to drive one of its cabs).
The legal relationship between taxi companies and their drivers is somewhat of a gray area. And a court in California recently issued a ruling that considered a passenger’s expectations, when determining whether a taxi company was liable for her injuries.
The jury heard the case of a woman who was riding in a taxi in San Francisco in 2011, when the driver failed to notice stopped traffic on the highway and rear-ended a car at approximately 60 to 65 mph. The woman suffered partial paralysis and a traumatic brain injury in the crash and has since been unable to work. The jury found that while the taxi driver was not an employee for the taxi company, the passenger had an expectation that a company stood behind that driver and vehicle, which made the driver an “ostensible employee.” That passenger’s expectations therefore created liability for the taxi company, and the jury issued an $8 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
Uber and Lyft: New Questions Emerge
Taxi drivers are feeling increasing competition from Uber and Lyft, two services that allow passengers to request a ride with their smartphone. Uber and Lyft drivers are independent, using their own vehicles to chauffeur passengers, and these businesses have raised questions about liability, as well as what regulations apply.
Drivers for Uber’s most affordable service, UberX, don’t have commercial licenses or commercial insurance. Before 2013, if an UberX driver was on-duty, but wasn’t transporting a passenger or on the way to pick up a passenger, the driver was liable for any crash that occurred. But Uber decided in 2013 to insure drivers anytime they’re in service.
Uber conducts its own background checks, but at least in Austin, taxi drivers have voiced concern that Uber drivers aren’t subject to the same regulations that apply to taxis. Austin voters will have the opportunity to decide in May whether Uber drivers must be fingerprinted in order to legally operate in the city.
In Austin, taxi drivers are required to have permits, proof of insurance, and submit to annual vehicle inspections. But rogue operators skirt those requirements to illegally transport passengers, often in 15-passenger vans. Their clients are usually late-night bar patrons and college students looking to save a little money on cab fare.
The problem with these unauthorized operators is that passengers have no way of knowing whether their drivers have insurance, have a criminal background, or are even authorized to drive a vehicle in the state of Texas. Passengers in rogue taxis could be at greater risk of being involved in a crash, and have no means of obtaining compensation, if the driver is uninsured.
Help for Victims
Taxis are generally a safe means of transportation, and it’s often other irresponsible drivers who cause taxi crashes, like the drunk driver who crashed into an Austin taxi in 2015 and severely injured the driver.
Regardless of the cause, if you’ve been injured as a passenger in a taxi or car-for-hire, it’s important to seek legal help. Contact us today using our online form, or call us to ask for your free consultation: 1-855-414-1012.