Regulatory action needed for Uber, Lyft and other ride services 

This week, I will depart from my usual practice of answering a question to comment upon the current status of legal wrangling concerning Uber, Lyft and the other Internet-arranged ride services. I first wrote about Lyft, Uber and Sidecar more than a year ago. In the intervening time period, these services have proliferated and our government is struggling to create laws and regulations to establish a modicum of consumer protection.

The stakes have never been higher. The 800-pound gorilla on the block, Uber, has adopted a robber baron mentality of callous commercialism. Ironically, when I say “on the block,” I mean it literally: Uber has taken roost on Market Street with its offices in a high-rise that has its front door directly opposite my building. This past month, while involved in a trial in which I am suing a taxi company for negligently causing serious harm to a young woman hit in a crosswalk, I have been in Sacramento and on the phone advocating for consumer protections for those injured or killed by the swarm of new, untrained, unregulated and often uninsured app-based drivers.

This work has brought together an unusual array of stakeholders, including the Consumer Attorneys of California (the trial lawyer’s bar that I was president of) and the Personal Insurance Federation of California, which lobbies for car-insurance companies. Trial lawyers and insurance companies rarely find themselves on the same side of an issue, but occasionally when their interests collide, alliances are made. We have been discussing Assembly Bill 2293, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, to deal with the refusal of these transportation companies to provide adequate insurance coverage during all phases of their operations.

All of these discussions have been taking place in the shadow of the California Public Utility Commission’s ongoing regulatory efforts. The CPUC recently released its tentative decision concerning proposed regulations of these entities that would mandate they provide $1 million of insurance coverage for all phases of operation from log-on to log-off.

Uber has woken up to the political realities of its existence and has pulled out all the stops to hire every available lobbyist with a heartbeat to lobby the state senators to reject AB 2293. Apparently Uber has decided to use a chunk of the recent $1.7 billion of recently acquired financing to persuade legislators to allow them to continue to be exempt from the safety regulations that other transportation providers are required to follow, including the procurement of insurance.

So as I write this, I am finalizing my closing argument, reviewing legislation and preparing to appear before the Senate Insurance Committee in support of enacting state law mandating minimum levels of insurance. The drafting of the legislation, involving nontraditional alliances between trial lawyers and insurance companies, has been laborious as Uber and its allies fight against being held accountable for their drivers’ conduct.

The need for legislative and regulatory action was made clear when an Uber driver, logged on to the app but not transporting a passenger, ran down the Liu family as it was walking home on New Year’s Eve around 8:15 p.m. This resulted in the tragic death of 6-year-old Sophia Liu as well as serious, lifelong injuries to her mother and brother. Uber, in what can only be characterized as callous indifference, indicated that it was too bad that Sophia died, but it wasn’t in any way responsible and it had no insurance to cover the harms caused to the public by its drivers.

Hopefully, I will be able to report back to you next week and convey the jury’s verdict in the pending action. Additionally, I hope that the Legislature takes bold and decisive action to protect public safety by setting clear, concise rules and insurance requirements.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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