Naturally, some Uber drivers cause accidents. However, Uber does not require its Florida drivers to maintain bodily injury (BI) liability insurance. (BI is a type of liability insurance which compensates for personal injuries and economic losses caused by an at-fault party.) Moreover, Uber considers itself and its drivers exempt from §324.032 Florida Statutes, which requires owners or lessees of one or more taxicabs, limousines, jitneys, or “any other for-hire passenger transportation vehicles” to maintain 24-hour commercial liability insurance with limits of $125,000/250,000/50,000. Finally, Uber argues that its drivers are independent contractors, a position which, if correct, would shield Uber from liability for driver negligence. See § 440.02(15)(d) Florida Statutes for a comprehensive statutory definition of “independent contractor.”
An employee injured or killed in the course of his or her employment by the negligence or wrongful act of a third-party tortfeasor may receive workers’ compensation benefits and pursue a remedy by action at law against such third-party tortfeasor. (Where the employee has been killed, the third-party action will be handled through the decedent’s estate by a court appointed Personal Representative.)
Pursuant to Florida Statute 440.39, if the employee or his or her dependents accept workers’ compensation benefits, the employer or its workers’ compensation insurance company shall be subrogated to the rights of the employee or his or her dependents against such third-party tortfeasor, to the extent of the amount of compensation benefits paid or to be paid. This is known as the workers’ compensation lien.
The main object of a vehicle (e.g., car, truck, motorcycle, van) crash claim or lawsuit is to obtain full compensation for the person harmed by the negligence of another. The standard damage elements are pain & suffering, loss of income (past and future), past and future medical expenses, and vehicle damage repair or replacement.
A crash damaged vehicle, even if repaired, has a diminished resale value. The diminished value is a measure of damages that can, under the right circumstances, be claimed as compensation from the at-fault party. (Typically, this means the at-fault party’s insurance company. Whether such a claim can be made against one’s own insurance policy in a first-party claim is a matter of contract law. Since Florida law does not require insurers to provide this coverage to their own insureds, whether or not it is available depends on the terms of the insurance contract. The coverage is usually not provided.)
Regarding recovery based on fault, present-day Florida tort law is governed by the standard established by the Florida Supreme Court in Hoffman v. Jones, 280 So.2d 431 (Fla., 1973). Hoffman replaced Florida’s contributory negligence rule (West v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., Inc., 336 So.2d 80, 90 (Fla.1976): the “gist of the doctrine of contributory negligence is that the person injured should not recover when it appears that the injury would have been avoided if the injured person had exercised reasonable care”) with a system of tort recovery based on a “pure form” of comparative negligence:
“If plaintiff and defendant are both at fault, the former may recover, but the amount of his recovery may be only such proportion of the entire damages plaintiff sustained as the defendant’s negligence bears to the combined negligence of both the plaintiff and the defendant.” Hoffman, 280 So.2d at 438.
Following the opinion in Hoffman, the Florida Legislature in 1986 codified the Court’s adoption of a system of comparative negligence, and its concomitant abolishment of the rule of contributory negligence, by enacting section 768.81 Florida Statutes (2015 version).
In a state (Florida) that does not require motorists to maintain Bodily Injury (BI) insurance, having Uninsured Motorist (UM)/Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage, within the prescripts of Florida Statute 627.727, is the best protection against uninsured/underinsured drivers. Per 627.727(1), UM/UIM is designed
“for the protection of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness, or disease, including death, resulting therefrom.”
We were recently contacted by a woman who sustained severe injuries from striking a tree after swerving to avoid hitting a dog. She had UM/UIM insurance, but because the dog, of course, was not operating an uninsured or underinsured motor vehicle, the coverage was not triggered. By contrast, had the woman swerved to avoid colliding with a so-called phantom vehicle which had cut her off, the prerequisite for UM coverage would have been met.
These are straightforward examples. Some are not.
Florida’s motor vehicle insurance laws can be confusing, even to lawyers and judges. It is little wonder, then, that lay people often face unfortunate predicaments because of uninformed insurance decisions. One of the most common predicaments is the suspension of driving privileges and vehicle registrations following a motor vehicle crash.
Vehicle insurance is a significant expense for most people. Every different type of coverage comes at the cost of a premium payment. Only two types of coverage are mandatory in Florida to register a motor vehicle: PIP and property damage liability. Because of cost concerns and a lack of knowledge, many Florida vehicle owners limit themselves to the basic package.
Our firm was recently retained by the grieving mother of a young adult killed in a motorcycle accident. Because her son was not married or the father of a child, she and the boy’s father can bring a civil claim for mental pain and suffering and funeral expenses against any party whose negligent conduct caused the accident. See §768.21(4) & (5) Florida Statutes.
It is too early in the investigation for us to know what happened. Law enforcement has not filed a Florida Crash Report or homicide report and the investigating officers are not talking. We do not know the cause of the accident or whether others were involved.
Under common law, principals are generally not liable for the negligent acts of independent contractors. Interstate shipping companies took advantage of this standard to avoid liability for accidents caused by the owners of rigs who contracted to transport their goods. The practice allowed carriers to keep from having to purchase liability insurance. Given the volume of interstate traffic and the risk of catastrophic injury resulting from big rig crashes, the premium savings were tremendous.
Because motor vehicles, like guns, in the wrong hands and used improperly are likely to cause great damage, Florida motor vehicle owners are liable without regard to their own fault for damages caused by the negligent operation of their vehicles. This principle is known as vicarious liability.
In the vernacular of this blog, risk and exposure have different meanings. Risk represents the chance of something happening, while exposure represents the consequences after that something happens. Premiums are set based on both: A high risk driver pays more than a low risk driver, and the higher the coverage limits, the higher the premium.