United States: New Ridesharing Legislation Highlights Insurance Uncertainty In Emerging Industries

Managing a company's exposure to new types of risks is often a complicated endeavor.  We've previously reported ( here and here) on the uncertainty that can arise when existing coverage models are applied to a new risk—such as losses arising from data breaches and other cyber-attacks.  Applying existing coverage models to emerging industries presents similar challenges.  These challenges were highlighted recently in the years-long dispute over insurance of ridesharing companies, like Lyft and Uber, which recently reached some degree of closure in California with the enactment of new insurance legislation for these companies.

Ridesharing companies have arisen in the past few years as an alternative to traditional forms of transportation, such as taxis.  These companies neither employ the drivers nor own the cars used for transportation; they essentially serve as an online "middleman" connecting passengers with freelance drivers for hire and expressly disavow that they provide any sort of "transportation services."  This new business model—blurring the lines between traditional services and social media—presented many questions as to liability and, consequently, risk management.  These questions were brought to the fore earlier this year, when the family of a six year old girl killed by a ridesharing driver sued the ridesharing company.  The company disclaimed liability on the basis that it is not responsible for the acts of its drivers, especially when the drivers do not have ridesharing passengers or are not en route to pick up one.

Many ridesharing drivers have relied primarily on their personal automobile policies, eschewing business coverage altogether, reportedly at the recommendation of the ridesharing companies themselves.  While ridesharing companies have carried excess insurance policies to cover ridesharing accidents, the insurance industry took the position that these policies did not cover such accidents because there was no primary coverage.  In other words, because the only "primary" insurance policies were personal use automobile policies that did not cover commercial livery use, the excess insurance could not be triggered.

On September 17, 2014, California AB-2293 was enacted to address this uncertainty of coverage.  The statute was the result of discussions between legislators, ridesharing companies, insurers, and traditional taxi companies.  It requires ridesharing companies in the state to provide $100,000 in coverage for their drivers that takes effect the moment a driver connects to the ridesharing company's dispatch software and increases to $1 million once the driver agrees to pick up a passenger.  It also states that a personal automobile insurer does not have the duty to defend or indemnify claims arising out of ridesharing, unless the policy expressly provides such coverage, and it requires ridesharing companies to disclose this fact to their drivers.

Whether other states will follow California's lead remains to be seen.  Legislation addressing ridesharing has been introduced across the country, and as one Pennsylvania state legislator observed, "By far the biggest issue is insurance."  In other states, regulators are addressing the possible insurance gap.  Just days after California's new statute was enacted, Oregon's State Insurance Division issued a consumer advisory, warning of the potential unavailability of insurance coverage under personal insurance policies for ridesharing and other services provided in the peer-to-peer marketplace.

As Oregon Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali observed in connection with ridesharing, "When a new industry emerges, it often creates unique insurance situations."  New industries may exist under insurance uncertainty for years or decades before legislation, regulation, or litigation clarifies the issue.  It is therefore critical when expanding into a nascent industry to consider how the risks of that industry may be managed, under either new or existing types of insurance coverage.

New Ridesharing Legislation Highlights Insurance Uncertainty In Emerging Industries

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