However, the Senate's proposal still conflicts with a House measure that would supersede local regulations on these companies and set statewide standards.
Unlike traditional taxi services, which use a fleet of company-owned vehicles to transport passengers, Uber and Lyft hire drivers to transport passengers in their personal vehicles. Passengers use an app to request a ride, and the app notifies a nearby driver. The driver transports the passenger, logs the trip using the app and pays a percentage of the fare to the ride-share company.
Also unlike taxi drivers, who are generally employees of their respective companies, Uber and Lyft drivers are independent contractors, which means they can use their own personal auto insurance for liability coverage.
New legislation seeks to address 'gaps' in insurance coverage
Legal challenges to these ride-share companies have been spearheaded by the Florida taxi industry. Taxi companies argue that while they must purchase expensive commercial insurance coverage to insure their vehicles at all times, Uber and Lyft are able to spend much less on insurance, giving those companies a competitive advantage.
The current legal debate concerns insurance coverage during three stages of the ride-share process:
- While the Uber or Lyft driver is signed in to the app and awaiting a fare;
- While the driver is en route to pick up a passenger;
- While the driver is actually transporting a passenger.
Lawmakers in both houses are looking for ways to level the playing field between ride-share services and traditional cab companies - and to ensure safety for passengers and drivers.
While the state government continues to work on more comprehensive regulations, drivers and passengers may be at risk. In accidents involving an Uber or Lyft driver, the following issues can leave motorists effectively uninsured:
- We've mentioned that Uber, Lyft and other ride-share companies allow their drivers to use their personal auto insurance while driving. However, most personal auto insurance policies will not actually provide coverage. Many insurers do not cover accidents that occur while the policyholder is "driving for profit," meaning they may deny a claim involving a ride-share driver.
- In cases where the ride-share driver's insurance will not cover injuries suffered during an accident, the injured passenger should be able to submit a claim to his or her own insurance. However, many passengers who use ride-share services do not have their own vehicles - that's precisely why they're using the service in the first place - and thus don't have this option.
- Some ride-share companies may not cover accidents between fares. This issue came to light in December 2013 when an Uber driver struck and killed a 6-year-old-girl in San Francisco. At the time, the driver was running the Uber app but was not carrying a passenger; Uber thus argued that they were not liable because he was not in their service at the time. Uber's policy has since changed to provide coverage when drivers are between fares, but not all ride-sharing services have the same coverage.
Compounding the issue in Florida is the fact that regulations are currently handled at the local level. That means that when an Uber or Lyft driver crosses a county or municipal line, he or she might be effectively underinsured, as insurance requirements change from place to place.
With the laws surrounding ride-share companies constantly changing, it can be difficult to get the compensation you need to pay your bills after an accident. If you were hurt in an accident involving a ride-share driver, you need an experienced attorney on your side. Contact the Law Offices of Scott M. Miller today.