Bill passes House vote to make drivers on rideshare apps ‘common carriers’

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — A new change in the way Illinois drivers’ views for rideshare apps may be coming soon, even though both Uber and Lyft are strongly opposed.

A bill in the state capitol would remove the exemption from drivers of rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft to be classified as “common carriers”. Under a 2014 law, drivers working for companies like Uber and Lyft were exempt from the law.

Companies that provide services with common carriers, such as bus drivers, train conductors, airline pilots and taxi drivers, have “vicarious liability”: if a bus rider for an unsafe ride sues the driver, the bus company can also be found liable for employing an unsafe driver under Illinois law.

The bill follows a recent high-profile Illinois court case. In Doe v. Lyft, a woman in Chicago was allegedly sexually assaulted by her Lyft driver. The woman sued the driver, Lyft, and the company used by Lyft for background checks, but Lyft argued that since their drivers were defined by Illinois law not to be common carriers, they were not liable for any damages.

An appellate court ruled in favor of Lyft. The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments for Doe v. Lyft in November 2021, but ended up dismissing the case in January 2022.

Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview), the House sponsor of the bill, believes it’s necessary to roll back rideshare companies’ common carrier exemptions to hold them accountable like most other transportation companies.

“Once that passenger, regardless of how you hail that cab, right, whether you put up your hand, or you tap an app… once you step in that car, that is when a higher duty of care attaches,” Gong-Gershowitz said . “Because the duty of care is based on the lack of control that the passengers have for their own safety.”

“We oppose this bill,” said Lyft and Uber

Lyft officials are strongly opposed to the bill. They argue with the current laws in place, only 0.0002% of their rides have a registered safety incident. Representatives of the company also said the new rule would increase the cost for riders.

“The proposed changes would increase frivolous litigation, even when the state-mandated $1 million liability policy would cover injuries, making a direct suit against a [ride-share company] unnecessary to compensate injured parties, and costly for both parties,” Brent Kent, the senior public policy manager for Lyft wrote in a letter to Gong-Gershowitz.

Uber is also against the bill. They argue if the bill becomes law, it may cause them to end services in some parts of the state and impact service for users in the state.

“This proposal would make Illinois the only state that treats rideshare this way, severely impacting drivers’ ability to earn money,” the company said in a statement to WCIA.

Bill passes House of Representatives

The bill passed on the House floor Thursday afternoon, mostly along party lines.

Republicans like Rep. Steve Reick (R-Woodstock) believes it’s important to distinguish that Lyft just facilitates matching riders with private drivers who work as independent contractors instead of employees of a taxi service.

“What we’re looking at here is a distinction between the relationship of the person with the entity that is actually providing the service,” Reick said before voting against the bill.

Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) said taxis are now rare in her district and have been replaced by Uber and Lyfts. Since they have taken over the responsibility of shuttling people around, she said they should carry the same burden.

“It’s a duty to protect passengers with the highest target of care,” Williams said. “It’s obviously the same thing in a cab as it is in an Uber or Lyft.”

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