In addition to our beloved, if not stylish, yellow taxi cabs, road travelers in Baltimore now have several other options for getting from Point A to Point B locally: smartphone “taxi” companies Lyft and Uber. Both started in San Francisco, Lyft and Uber are internet-based car companies that allow users to view nearby vehicles on a map on their smartphone, request one — and pay for it via credit card. Lyft technically does not even charge for rides, but rather, accepts “donations” from passengers (your phone “suggests” an appropriate fare at the end of the ride), while Uber has pre-set fares and offers riders various levels of transportation, from small sedan to Town Car to SUV.
The question these new companies raise, however, is what, if any, responsibility does a Lyft or Uber driver have if he or she negligently causes an accident and injures his or her passenger? The answer may not be what you would expect. Lyft and Uber drivers are NOT employees of the corporations, and the vehicles they drive are not owned by the corporations either. Instead, these corporations have taken the position that they are merely “networking” services that allow passengers to electronically “connect” with an independent driver willing to transport them. And unlike the taxi cab industry, Lyft and Uber are not regulated by any state or federal agency to date.