I-Team: Owners Of Totaled Vehicles Say Downtown Crash Exposes Loophole In Rideshare Insurance
BOSTON (CBS) - Some vehicle owners whose cars were totaled in a dramatic Halloween crash involving a Boston fire truck are discovering they might not get insurance payments to cover the damages, the WBZ I-Team has learned.
The dilemma is connected to new state legislation that governs rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. Because of the circumstances surrounding the crash, there is not nearly enough property damage insurance coverage to pay for all the claims.
Pablo Fuentes had his 2010 Mercedes parked along Commonwealth Avenue on October 31. It was one of 10 vehicles damaged in the chain-reaction collision.
Fuentes, who no longer carried collision coverage, said he had recently paid off the car a few weeks earlier. But his Mercedes is no longer drive-able and has been sitting in storage since the crash.
"It's very frustrating. I'm out $13,000," he told the I-Team. "I worked hard for that car. I bought it myself and now, I don't know what to do."
Police say the crash was caused when a Lyft driver pulled out in front of the fire truck as it was responding to an emergency. The two vehicles collided on Commonwealth Avenue and the fire truck veered into the row of parked cars. Amazingly, there were no serious injuries.
A Boston Fire Department spokesman said damage to the truck was estimated at $50,000.
When police cited the Lyft driver for failing to stop for an emergency vehicle, Fuentes figured the big company would have no problem paying out the claims.
But he and other vehicle owners learned they are likely out of luck.
The twisted and smashed remnants of Catherine Pinto's Jeep Grand Cherokee sit in a Charlestown tow lot. The 26-year-old's parked vehicle was the first one struck by the fire truck, setting off a damaging domino effect that also involved two BMWs, an Audi and a Land Rover.
"It's just been an absolute nightmare," her father, Frank Pinto, told the I-Team. "I would think it's a few hundred thousand dollars in claims that will come out of this."
Here is the problem: When drivers working for Uber or Lyft have accepted a ride request or are carrying a passenger, the companies provide a $1 million insurance policy.
However, the driver involved in the crash with the fire truck only had his Lyft app turned on, and had not been paired with a passenger yet. In that situation, Lyft is still the primary insurance policy, but the amount of property damage coverage required drops to only $30,000.
"That is absolutely ridiculous," Pinto said. "To me, it seems like a regulation that should be changed."
Supporters of the taxi industry argue the incident highlights another example of rideshare companies not playing by the same set of rules. They say taxis carry the same insurance coverage, regardless of whether or not they have a passenger.
"This is why the legislation was faulty," said Donna Blythe-Shaw, a former leader of the Boston Taxi Drivers Association. "I'm still stunned they could allow it to pass like that without making sure there was more than adequate insurance."
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz was a key author of the rideshare bill signed into law last summer. Much of that contentious debate revolved around background checks for drivers and access to picking up passengers at Logan Airport.
Michlewitz believes the insurance limits are appropriate and were based on a model that is used in at least 35 other states around the country.
The lawmaker cautioned against overreacting to what he described as an "extraordinary crash."
"But obviously, extraordinary circumstances lead to conversations and I think we'll certainly take a further look at it going forward," he told the I-Team. "Everything is open to review."
Michlewitz said lawmakers directed the Department of Insurance to keep an eye on the issue and make recommendations if there is a part of the legislation that he thinks should be tweaked.
The person who answered the phone at the Lyft driver's house referred the I-Team to an attorney, who has not responded to inquiries.
It remains unclear if the Lyft driver's personal insurance policy will pay for any portion of the claims. However, states like Massachusetts implemented the regulations because personal insurance policies were not covering drivers when they were engaged in rideshare activities.
The driver was participating in a partnership with General Motors that allowed him to use a rental vehicle for the ridesharing activities. A Lyft spokeswoman said that arrangement does not change the insurance situation.
"The driver is currently deactivated as our Trust and Safety team continues to investigate the incident," spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison wrote.
For drivers like Fuentes, a change to the rules is already overdue. He argues that if drivers have their rideshare apps turned on, there is a potential for distraction.
"I can't believe the legislation allows for this," he said. "I think it's a huge oversight and it's definitely going to happen again."
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.
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