Food delivery services, such as Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash, have been doing booming business in recent years. The online food delivery industry is now generating more than $26 million annually, and nearly one-third of Americans say they used food delivery services twice a week. But as their popularity has risen, so too have reported Florida distracted driving crashes attributed to their drivers.
Last year, there was the tragic case of an Uber Eats driver allegedly slamming into the back of a motorcycle in Tampa, killing a 19-year-old University of Tampa student on the rear of the bike and permanently injuring her brother, the operator. The 33-year-old food delivery service driver was reportedly on her phone making a delivery near campus when the crash occurred. According to The Tampa Bay Times, the police cited the driver for failure-to-yield, but the citation was tossed when the traffic officer failed to appear in court – a ruling the police department is appealing. No criminal charges have been filed, but the victim’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. They allege Uber, its subsidiary, and the driver are all liable for their daughter’s untimely death. Specifically, they say the driver was rushed and inattentive/on her phone, and that Uber is negligent in failing to train her and for encouraging driver distraction with a feature that prompts workers to communicate with customers while they’re driving. Plaintiffs also say the company hired the driver despite a poor driving record that included citations for speeding, carelessness, and a crash.
Similar cases have been reported from Boston to San Francisco. There are currently numerous, ongoing personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against the drivers, vehicle owners, and delivery app companies.
Factors in Food Delivery Driver Crashes
The reality is food delivery drivers have always been slightly more prone to crashes, even before smartphones were everywhere. In fact, they have one of the highest occupational fatalities rates in the U.S. Primary factors driving up crashes for food delivery drivers:
- Lack of driving experience. Historically, most food delivery drivers have been young, somewhere between the ages of 18-25. It is well-established that younger drivers with less experience are more prone to driving errors, speeding, and distraction.
- High pressure to deliver food quickly & accurately. Even before food delivery apps, lots of pizza shops especially promised delivery within a certain time window or the food was free. Now, many delivery apps will penalize drivers with poor customer ratings. Faster deliveries means not only better tips, but better ratings, providing clear incentive to speed or even drive recklessly.
- More drive time. The more time anyone spends on the road, the greater the odds they’ll have an accident. Food delivery drivers are frequently behind the wheel, often on unfamiliar roads, in the dark, and sometimes in inclement conditions, like heavy rain and fog.
With food delivery apps like UberEats and DoorDash, there is an added layer of connectivity (with the customer and the company) and thus distraction while driving. Not only are drivers using navigation features to find food pickup sites and destinations, there’s the potential for back-and-forth communication while they’re en route. Drivers not only want to deliver food in a timely manner, but be sure the order is precise.
There’s no question that cell phone use is a visual, cognitive, and manual distraction behind the wheel. Florida’s ban on texting while driving law, F.S. 316.305, prohibits operating a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, symbols, or other characters on a wireless communication device or while sending or reading data on such a device. This includes texting, but also emailing and instant messaging. However, navigation-related features are exempted, as are voice-to-text features.
Are Food Delivery Apps Liable for Florida Distracted Driving Crashes?
Although Florida is a no-fault state for car accidents, anytime you’re seriously injured, it’s a good idea to consult with a car accident attorney. Your own PIP (personal injury protection coverage) provides coverage regardless of whose fault it was – but only up to $10,000. If someone is seriously hurt or dies in a crash, that isn’t going to cut it. Plus, some of the most vulnerable road users – motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians – aren’t required to carry it.
If the crash involved someone driving for a ridesharing or food delivery app, you *might* be able to collect more damages than you would in a typical Florida crash, but that’s heavily dependent on the specific facts of the case.
According to Forbes Advisor, some tech/food delivery companies, like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, carry hefty commercial liability insurance policies for drivers – up to $1 million. However, that coverage can depend on whether the driver was on an active assignment. (Drivers in these cases are considered independent contractors, not employees, so the doctrine of respondeat superior that typically compels vicarious liability of a company for an employee’s negligence doesn’t apply.) In some cases, the app only offers an “excess” auto insurance policy for drivers, meaning liability coverage only kicks in after the driver’s personal auto insurance is exhausted. If the driver doesn’t carry insurance (as required by law), the app’s policy won’t cover them. (Note: A food delivery driver’s own personal auto insurance may not cover the crash either if they were regularly driving the vehicle for work-related purposes and failed to inform the insurer.) Other companies (Grubhub and Instacart, for example) don’t provide any liability insurance coverage, so drivers must rely solely on their own coverage.
As you can see, these cases can quickly get complicated. It’s imperative if you’re injured in a South Florida car accident to contact an experienced injury lawyer to help you examine your legal options and determine your next step.
If you are injured in Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, Cape Coral, Naples or Key West, contact Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.
Uber Eats driver was on phone when she hit, killed UT student, lawsuit says, Nov. 24, 2021, By Josh Fiallo, The Tampa Bay Times
More Blog Entries:
Understanding Florida’s Careless Driving Statute, Jan. 13, 2022, Fort Myers Distract Car Accident Lawyer Blog