Uber adjusts insurance policy in wake of fatal collision

Pub date March 18, 2014

Transportation Network Companies, more commonly known as “rideshares,” have operated in legal limbo regarding their insurance since their creation. This came to a head on New Year’s Eve with the death of six-year-old Sofia Liu, who was killed in a collision with an Uber car driven by a man named Syed Muzzafar. Uber claimed in a blog post that because Muzzafar was not ferrying a passenger at the time, and only using the app to search for fares, that he was not officially covered by their insurance.

That insurance gap left Muzzafar on the hook for the little girl’s death and the injuries of her family, the subject of a lawsuit that could end up seeking some $20 million in damages.

So far, Uber has not provided any compensation to Liu’s family. But it has revised its insurance policy, suggesting future collisions may be covered.

In a blog post, Uber announced that “in order to fully address any ambiguity or uncertainty around insurance coverage for ridesharing services,” it would expand drivers’ insurance “to cover any potential ‘insurance gap’ for accidents that occur while drivers are not providing transportation service for hire but are logged onto the Uber network and available to accept a ride.”

Uber’s new policy will cover up to $100,000 per incident for bodily injuries and $25,000 per incident for property damage. But the blog specifies that the money will not kick in if a driver’s personal insurance covers a collision, as appears to be the case with the New Year’s Eve incident.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick said that the Syed Muzzafar’s personal insurance policy had offered to pay the claim, but had not yet followed through.

Uber’s spokesperson Andrew Noyes declined to comment when we asked him about this.

Notably, a coalition of rideshares including Lyft and Sidecar and a handful of insurance companies banded together to develop new insurance policies. The group’s work is ongoing, though the intent looks positive — new insurance policies specific to Transportation Network Companies developed by a coalition of industries would be a great step for driver, passenger and pedestrians alike.

But for now, commercial and personal insurance policies rarely, if ever, cover TNC drivers. And Uber’s new insurance? It’s great, as long as Uber follows through. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

Indecisive Democrats let real-estate developers win

By a slim margin, the governing body of the San Francisco Democratic Party voted Wed/12 to oppose a controversial June ballot measure, Proposition B, concerning waterfront height limits.

The initiative would require city officials to get voter approval before approving new building projects that are taller than what’s legally sanctioned under a comprehensive waterfront land-use plan. Prop. B stems from an effort last November, authored by the same proponents, to reverse approval for a luxury waterfront development project called 8 Washington, which exceeded building height limits. In the run-up to that election, the DCCC sided against the 8 Washington developers, and aligned itself with those seeking to strike down the 8 Washington height-limit increase in order to kill the project.

But this time, under the leadership of chair Mary Jung — who is employed as a lobbyist for the San Francisco Association of Realtors — the DCCC came down on the side of powerful real-estate developers.

The vote was surprising to some longtime political observers, given that until recently the DCCC was known as a progressive stronghold in San Francisco politics. Its slate cards are distributed to Democrats throughout San Francisco, and Democrats make up the vast majority of city voters.

In a politically significant outcome, the DCCC’s opposition to Prop. B was decided by a slim 13 to 12 vote. The threshold for it to pass or fail was much lower than usual, because so many DCCC members simply refused to take a stand.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu — who not only opposed 8 Washington but helped gather signatures for the referendum to challenge it — was among those who abstained. Chiu’s decision to abstain sets him apart from Campos, his opponent in the upcoming Assembly race, who voted to endorse Prop. B. Had Chiu voted, Prop. B’s opponents would not have had the votes to get the upper hand.

When reached for comment, Chiu told the Bay Guardian he still hasn’t formed an opinion on the measure, and that he’s waiting on a pending city analysis and the outcome of a lawsuit challenging it.

“There’s been very little analysis and I could take money away from affordable housing and cost the city money fighting a lawsuit,” he said, citing the money that developers would be spending on political campaigns as the potential source of affordable housing money.

“I am open to supporting the measure, as someone who passionate about waterfront development,” he added, citing the lead role he took in opposing the 8 Washington project. (Rebecca Bowe)


Local support for national LGBT housing rights

At the Tue/11 Board of Supervisors meeting, Sup. David Campos introduced legislation to encourage large-scale developers to protect the housing rights of the LGBT community.

Same-sex couples nationwide are more likely to experience discrimination in their search for senior housing, a study by the Washington, D.C. based Equal Rights Center found.

To investigate, testers posed as gay or straight couples with otherwise nearly identical credentials, then submitted inquiries on senior housing in 10 different states. They discovered that in 96 out of 200 tests, those posing as lesbian, gay or bisexual residents experienced at least one type of adverse, differential treatment.

Meanwhile, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender U.S. residents has been refused a home or apartment, and more than one in ten has been evicted, because of their gender identity.

Federal law does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. California law does, as do laws in 19 other states. Given these gaps in legal protection, real-estate providers can adopt their own policies to prohibit LGBT discrimination.

Campos’ proposal would require large-scale developers who wish to build in San Francisco to prove their commitment to equal housing opportunities.

“We want to know whether a developer hoping to build in San Francisco is protecting LGBT housing rights when they own or manage housing in states where legal protections don’t exist,” Campos explained. “By collecting this information, we can highlight best practices and urge those who do not have these policies to do the right thing.”