Lax rideshare regulations put drivers, passengers, and pedestrians at risk
The relative insecurity of private background checks raises an unsettling question: How many others with reckless driving records or DUIs drive for TNC companies like Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft without the companies' knowledge?
The results of a collision can be severe, as San Francisco's tragic New Year's eve incident demonstrates. But even those who survive are left with bills that Uber, allegedly, isn't paying.
PAYING NO ONE
Last September, Jason Herrera and Nikolas Kolintzas summoned an Uber driver via smartphone, intending to hop from Valencia Street to the Marina district. Driver Bassim Elbatniji responded, and drove the pair down Octavia, where his Prius collided with a Camry.
Herrera suffered a concussion and was knocked unconscious. Kolintzas also suffered a concussion, and they both sustained injuries to their necks and backs, according to court documents.
But when the two sought financial assistance from Uber to cover their medical costs, Uber said it was the driver's responsibility.
"As far as Uber's concerned, their insurance isn't providing any of this," attorney Colleen Li told the Guardian. Li is representing Kolintzas and Herrera in their suit against Uber, which seeks damages to cover their medical bills, which reached "tens of thousands" of dollars, Li told us.
According to a policy published on Uber's website, the company maintains a $1 million "per incident insurance policy applicable to ridesharing trips," which is in keeping with requirements under the new CPUC regulations.
Nevertheless, Uber has not stepped up to cover damages in response to a lawsuit arising from a similar incident. Months ago, the Guardian reported on the case of an Uber driver who hit a fire hydrant, which flew through the air and struck Claire Fahrbach, a barista living in San Francisco ("Lawsuit over injury from airborne fire hydrant tests Uber's insurance practices," 8/8/13). She sustained lacerations to her body, a fracture in her lower leg, and multiple herniated discs, according to her lawsuit against Uber.
Her medical bills and injuries destroyed her dreams of living in San Francisco, and she moved home with her parents in North Carolina to recover. Her lawyer, Doug Atkinson, told us Uber still hasn't paid for his client's medical services.
"They're still denying they have any liability for the driver," he said. "They said they wouldn't fight the CPUC ruling, but in our case they obviously are."
But the hydrant also sprouted a geyser that flooded a nearby business, Rare Device, and the apartment building above it. "It was horrible. Our store flooded, we lost a bunch of inventory," Rare Device's owner, Giselle Gyalzen, told us.
Her insurance covered the damage, but she's still trying to recover the deductible from Uber.
Uber directed the lawyers to its terms of service, which tell people up front that they won't cover anything: "Uber under no circumstance accepts liability in connection with and/or arising from the transportation services provided by the Transportation Provider or any acts, action, behavior, conduct, and/or negligence on the part of the Transportation Provider."
Meanwhile, the drivers also find themselves in a bind when it comes to obtaining insurance. Given the lack of clarity, state agencies have opted to alert TNC drivers that they're going without a safety net.
On its website, the California Department of Insurance posted a notice warning, "TNCs are not required to have medical payments coverage, comprehensive, collision, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage or other optional coverages." It goes on to explain that TNCs' liability policies aren't required to cover bodily injury to the drivers, damages to the drivers' cars, or damage and injuries caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.