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Negligence Issues in the Sharing Economy: AirBNB, Uber, and Other Tech Giants

July 21st, 2020
Gosai Law
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For hundreds of thousands of us, technology has been a saving grace for the navigation of our daily lives. We’ve come to rely on technology-fueled services such as Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber in order to function more efficiently, allowing them to play a vital role in our well-being. These tech giants belong to the “sharing economy”, and have taken over more traditional alternatives such as hotels and taxi services in a big way.

It is important to remember that sharing services are held to the same standard of care as any other business, despite the convenience in service. Because this industry is relatively new and therefore not completely developed, it has the potential to bring with it an entirely new possibility for negligence and personal injury. 

In this article, we’re going to take a look at potential negligence and safety issues that are associated with popular tech giants such as Airbnb and Uber. We will expand on the legal obligations they have to their clients and users, the responsibilities held by the hosts and drivers, and what you can do if you’ve been injured as a result of a sharing service. 

What Responsibilities Do Sharing Services Have Towards Their Users?

Airbnb alone received over 500 million confirmed guest arrivals as of March 2019. While the possibility of a personal injury is the last thing on anyone’s mind when leaving for a getaway, the chances that it may occur are ever-present. 

While fatal incidents taking place on Airbnb rented property have been widely publicized in the news, it is unknown how many of those stays resulted in non-fatal, yet major personal injuries. And when a personal injury does occur on the premises of an Airbnb property or on an Uber ride, where do these tech giants’ responsibilities lie?

While the platforms themselves certainly hold an abundance of responsibility, the hosts themselves owe their guests a duty of care that is outside of the sharing platform’s control. Companies such as Airbnb and Uber do largely acknowledge the potential liability risks, as outlined in their comprehensive insurance policies.  

Having said this, a platform’s limited control over the maintenance and safety of their hosts’ properties is why their insurance policies contain subclauses that clearly outline what they do not cover. And what they do not cover largely comes down to their hosts’ own duty of care.

When a party fails to exercise a duty of care or discharge their own standard of care, this is considered negligence in tort law. As a property owner, you may have a duty of care to guests accessing your property to ensure that it is reasonably safe. Where an owner fails to discharge that duty resulting in injury to the guest, the owner may be liable under common law and the Occupiers’ Liability Act (OLA), and the guest may make a claim for damages.

What is Duty of Care and How Does it Apply?

A duty of care is the legal responsibility of a professional, organization, or everyday citizen to take reasonable care to avoid behaviors or omissions that could foreseeably harm/injure others. In the case of a sharing service such as Airbnb or Uber, a host or vehicle driver has a duty to ensure that their guest or passenger is reasonably safe when occupying their property. 

Standard of care refers to the scope and nature of vigilance and care owed by one party towards another (and where a duty of care is established). The standard of care is contextual, taking into account the general business norms, ordinary business practices, collegial practices, statute, and/or other directives.

What Are a Sharing Platforms’ Legal Obligations?

Both Airbnb and Uber have comprehensive insurance policies in the event of an accident or mishap. Having said this, no matter how extensive these insurance policies may be, they do not excuse their host or driver from having to exercise their own duty of care.

In the case of Airbnb, homeowners are covered in certain cases when claims are filed against them due to a guest suffering an injury during a stay. Of course, certain “conditions, limitations, and exclusions may apply,” as set out on Airbnb’s website. There are also several grey areas that may not be expressly outlined in Airbnb’s insurance policy, in which case, it is unclear who may be considered at fault.

So, what happens if a guest suffers an injury that was seemingly the result of a host’s failure to uphold their duty of care? Let’s say that a guest was badly injured at an Airbnb property, due to the fact that the homeowner themselves failed to maintain the stairs leading up to their house. In this case, the injured party may file a claim against Airbnb, the host itself, and possibly any independent contractors who may have been hired to fix the broken stairs and failed to adequately do so.

Are Personal Injuries Covered By the Host Platform’s Insurance?

Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and the majority of popular sharing platforms are covered by extensive insurance policies. These insurance policies are largely set in place to cover the driver or the host in the case of a personal injury in or on their property.

There are instances where a host may have placed a guest in a situation where they are considered liable for their injuries after the association with the sharing platform has ended. For example, an Uber driver may have dropped a passenger off on a clearly crowded street, where pedestrian dropoffs are not authorized. If the passenger was injured as a result after walking across the street, it is unlikely Uber would be responsible but may be considered negligent.

As the popularity of sharing platforms is at an alltime high, it is truly only a matter of time before more of these injuries make their way through the Ontario court system. As mentioned, there are several instances where an insurance policy does not cover the possibly negligent host. This mostly applies to areas in which a duty of care should have been exercised.

What Are My Options As a Host or Driver If A Guest Suffers An Injury On My Property?

If you are being sued for a personal injury obtained on or in your property, you may need legal counsel to assist you in navigating your options.

What Do I Do If I Have Been Injured as a Result of a Sharing Platform or Service?

When it comes down to it, renting an Airbnb or accepting a ride with Uber or Lyft has the potential to not be as safe and stress-free as you may think. It is important for hosts to ensure that they are covered in the event of an incident and that they are discharging their duty and standard of care toward their guests. If a guest is injured as a result of being present on or in the host’s property, the injured guest should contact a qualified personal injury lawyer. 

We at Gosai Law can help you to navigate this complicated and relatively new area of negligence and ensure that you are adequately compensated for your loss. While our physical office location is currently closed, we are continuing to be an advocate for your case remotely. Please reach out to us at (905) 595-2225 or contact info@gosailaw.com for more information.   

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