Individuals who are injured in a ridesharing accident may be able to pursue punitive damages against the at-fault driver and the rideshare company. As ridesharing spreads across the United States, the number of accidents involving Uber and Lyft drivers is also rising. When juries award punitive damages, they do so with the intent of deterring the driver from engaging in the unsafe behaviors that caused the accident.
The Low-Bar for Admission Increases Uber Risk
Rideshare companies have set a low-bar for allowing drivers to operate on their platforms. Though Nevada requires rideshare drivers to have a business license, Uber and Lyft both conduct minimal background checks and have lax safety requirements for their drivers. Practically anyone with a pulse, a semi-new vehicle, a clean driving record, and background check, and the willingness to pick up strangers can use these platforms to turn their vehicles into ad hoc taxis.
Unlike professional taxi or bus drivers, there are no formal training requirements and there is lax oversight of the industry. Drivers may engage in aggressive or reckless driving behaviors or conduct other actions that would not occur in a more heavily regulated industry.
Nationwide, traffic deaths and injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents are on the rise. One reason for this is the rise of ridesharing services. Accident rates in cities that allow Uber and Lyft to operate are rising at rates that outpace other similarly sized communities that do not allow these services. Thus, while these services may seem innocuous on the surface, their operations are having an impact on road safety and increasing the risk of injury or death for other motorists, passengers, and pedestrians.
Economic Damage & Non-Economic Damages
Economic damages are those suffered by the injured party that causes a direct financial loss. These include medical and surgical expenses, emergency medical treatment including airlifts and ambulance rides, and any loss of income due to hospitalization or during the recovery period. Economic damages also include property damage, long-term care, and disability expenses, and any psychological counseling or the purchase of rehabilitation aids.
Non-economic damages are damages that have no directly quantifiable monetary loss. These include pain and suffering, loss of limb, loss of sense such as sight or hearing, loss of quality of life, and loss of consortium. Both economic and non-economic compensatory damages can be pursued in the vast majority of motor vehicle accidents.
Pursuing Punitive Damages
To pursue punitive damages, the individual must prevail in the claim for economic or non-economic damages. The plaintiff must also establish that the Uber or Lyft driver’s actions were deliberately negligent, reckless, or malfeasant. For instance, the driver was deliberately driving while intoxicated, purposefully ignored speed limits, drove while drowsy, chose not to repair a known mechanical defect, drove aggressively, etc.
These are actions that are entirely under the driver’s control. When a driver chooses to engage in these behaviors, it is gross negligence. This means they chose to voluntarily disregard the foreseeable injuries or wrongful deaths that could occur as a result of their actions.
When juries in Nevada consider awarding punitive damages, they look at a wide range of factors. Ultimately, the purpose of punitive damages is to deter the driver from engaging in the same behaviors in the future. As such, the judge or jury will examine the driver’s character and conduct from both before and after the accident. They will consider the defendant’s assets, as well as the potential that the driver will harm a future passenger, pedestrian, or motorist. Finally, the jury will consider the actual physical, financial, and psychological harm the plaintiff suffered.
Nevada Caps on Punitive Damages
Nevada Revised Statute caps the amount of punitive damages an individual can receive at $300,000 in cases where the individual is awarded less than $100,000 in compensatory damages. That limit is raised to three times the amount of compensatory damages in cases where $100,000 or more in compensatory damages are awarded. However, there is no award cap in cases where the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident.
Punitive damages in Nevada are awarded in a separate trial stage from those concerning economic and non-economic damages. In a jury trial, the jury is requested to return a special verdict that states whether they believe punitive damages are warranted, and how much they believe the plaintiff is entitled to receive. Once the verdict is in the judge’s hands, they will determine the defendant’s ability to pay and adjust the award to fall within statutory guidelines before issuing the final damage award.