Gig Worker Deaths Leave Families Making up for Lost Wages

Liz Carey

As many as 50 gig workers have lost their lives while working, but the businesses they work for do little more than pass on condolences in the press, a new report shows.

And that number may be much higher, Gig Workers Rising, the group responsible for the report, found.

“Despite years of breathless press coverage on the pros and cons of the gig economy, less focus has been given to the question of whether app-based corporations do enough to protect workers’ lives,” the report said. “But our research found news reports, legal filings, police records and family accounts indicating that over 50 gig workers have been killed on the job since 2017 in just the United States. The true number is likely to be much greater as gig corporations don’t regularly disclose the number of homicides that occur for people working using their app.”

The report said that as many as 50 drivers working for companies like Lyft, Uber and DoorDash had been assaulted or killed while working, but the families of those drivers did not receive any workers’ compensation death benefits because they are classified as contract workers.

And because gig companies typically make drivers sign forced arbitration agreements, the families of those drivers can’t access the court system to file wrongful death lawsuits if they feel the company could have done more to prevent the driver’s death.

“The companies have structured their relationships so they’re not responsible for the injuries their drivers experience over the course of employment,” Catherine Fisk, a labor law expert at the University of California, Berkeley, told NPR.

That leaves families responsible for everything from funeral expenses to cleaning the blood out of cars where drivers have been shot by customers. GWR said it spoke to numerous families about the contact they had with gig companies after the death of their loved ones and found that in some cases the company the driver worked for never even contacted them.

“After a worker’s tragic death, the corporations for whom they worked too often send sympathy through news reporters but do not consistently support workers or their families with basic protections like workers’ compensation,” the report said. “ This behavior is consistent with too many corporations’ core business model: minimizing compensation and inadequately protecting their workers by, among other things, classifying them as independent contractors. Gig corporation policies put workers at risk in order to maximize profits for investors, but take insufficient responsibility for the workers who bring in their revenue.”

Research showed that drivers for the companies faced increasing incidents of carjacking, bike theft, verbal abuse, physical harassment, sexual harassment, and assault. In fact, one study cited in the report found that 41 percent of gig workers feel unsafe at work.

According to GWR, one of those drivers was Isabella Lewis.

Lewis, 26, was living in Plano, Texas, when she received a notification about a passenger on her Lyft app. She’d been working for the ride-sharing company for three years to support her family. Ten minutes later on that August Sunday, Lewis would be dead. Officials said Lewis was shot in the side of the head and dragged out of her car, before her assailants drove off in Lewis’ car, running over her foot.

Since her murder, Lewis’ family told GWR, no one from Lyft has reached out to the family. The family did hear from Lyft’s insurance company, Liberty Mutual, they said, but only to access Lewis’ car to assess whether or not is should pay to fix the car’s windshield and clean up Lewis’ blood.

“Since losing my sister, the only thing we have heard or seen on Lyft’s part is in an article that was published by Dallas Morning News,” the family said in a statement to GWR. “

We appreciate the kind words, but it would have been more heartfelt to receive those words directly as a family from losing our loved one that was in the hands of a company who was supposed to do what they could to protect all their drivers. My sister lost her life over a Lyft trip that totaled to be 15 dollars and really only totaled that because it wasn’t stopped at the time of arrival but more so after her death. Fifteen dollars that she couldn’t even take with her when losing her life for it… I think that’s the most heartbreaking part for me. She was just trying to make extra money to cover bills or to just have something extra after paying her bills.”

The family set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to help cover costs, eventually raising nearly $9,000.

A spokesman for Lyft said the company does work to help and protect its drivers.

“Since day one, we’ve built safety into every part of the Lyft experience,” a spokesman from Lyft said in an email interview with “We are committed to doing everything we can to help protect drivers from crime, and will continue to take action and invest in technology, policies and partnerships to make Lyft as safe as it can be.”

The spokesman said that Lyft works with its drivers to help them if they ever feel unsafe, and are able to “quickly and discreetly” connect with security professionals at ADT who, in turn, connects with authorities to assist the driver. Additionally, the company said it monitors rides and, in some instances, reaches out to drivers directly if they notice irregularities.

If safety incidents are reported to the company, the spokesman said, the policy is to immediately reach out to the driver to offer support. The company said it reaches out to the driver’s family if they can’t reach the driver. Specialized safety advocates work with the family to determine their needs and provide support, up to and including financial assistance.

But it’s not just ride share companies that are putting gig workers at risk, experts said. Attorneys with Gross & Kenny, LLP, in Philadelphia, said statistics show gig workers account for a growing percentage of workers killed or injured on the job across industry sectors.

“From 2016 to 2017, 1,275 of the 10,337 fatal occupational injuries were gig workers, which comprised of 12.3 percent of all worker fatalities,” the attorneys said in a blog post. “Of those, tractor trailer truck drivers had the highest fatality rate of 173 fatal injuries. Those working in construction, extraction, and landscaping occupations followed. Slip and falls accounted for 26.4 percent of on-the-job deaths overall. In another significant statistic, older workers accounted for 25.7 percent of gig worker fatalities.”

Those statistics are cause for concern, the attorneys said.

“The rise in this segment of the economy raises questions regarding the efficiency of health and safety practices outside traditional employment,” the attorneys said. “Occupational health and safety have long been focal points of other high-risk occupations, such as construction and transportation, with the goal of reducing workplace injuries and fatalities. Until this report, the BLS had not yet tracked the injury and illness rate in this new type of work. Workers in the gig economy who are not covered under Workers’ Compensation insurance have even less of a critical safety net when hurt at work.”