This week’s question comes from Bob in Los Angeles, who writes:
Q: “I was reading your columns online and see that you write a lot about Lyft and Uber. I drive for both. While driving recently late at night from LAX, I was sideswiped by a pickup truck driver who changed lanes suddenly without looking. I slammed on my brakes to try and avoid colliding with the truck, but it hit the front of my car, forcing me into the concrete dividing wall. The front and left side of my car is wrecked. My airbag went off, and both the passenger and I were injured. The police came and took a report, but I don’t have the license plate of the pickup truck driver. I told the company and they told me to submit a claim with my insurance company. What should I do?”
A: Bob, I hope you have sought and are receiving proper medical care for your injured neck. It is likely that your car insurance policy will not cover your losses. As you were transporting a passenger, your personal car insurance policy will most likely not apply as most personal policies contain an exclusion for commercial activity, meaning that there is no coverage if the vehicle is being used for business purposes. Commercial vehicles are recognized as presenting a greater risk of collisions, as they are used more frequently and for longer periods than personal vehicles, cover larger areas and engage in activities that may cause driver distraction.
Even though your insurance most likely won’t provide coverage, all is not lost: Both Lyft and Uber have uninsured motorist coverage that applies when you have a paying passenger in the car. This insurance protects you if and when you are harmed by someone who does not have insurance as well as in situations, such as this, where you are injured by an unknown driver when certain conditions apply.
California law states an uninsured vehicle includes one where the owner is unknown so long as there is physical contact between their vehicle and yours. The contact requirement exists to protect against fraud in situations where an owner crashes their own vehicle and then falsely claims it was because of another driver.
Unfortunately, if you swerve because you are afraid of a collision and hit another car or fixed object, you will be unable to perfect a claim. Another anti-fraud requirement is the timely filing of a police report and an insurance claim. These are deemed to be indications of a truthful claim as it is a crime to file a false claim or police report.
In your case, there was contact between your vehicles, so the contact requirement has been met. The police arrived and you filed a report with the company so those two requirements have been met. You also have the passenger to provide testimony as to the contact. Both you and your passenger can file a claim through the company’s insurance for your personal injuries, medical bills, wage loss and property damages.
The insurance company owes you a duty to fairly and fully compensate you but it may not come as a surprise that they often want to pay you as little as possible. They can raise the same defenses that the driver of the truck could raise if he/she had been identified.
For example, to try and minimize their exposure, they can claim that you were speeding or that you overreacted and that played a contributing factor in causing your injuries. If you feel that you are not being treated fairly, find a good trial lawyer to advocate on your behalf.
To the rest of the readership, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you obtain uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Statistics show that as much as 25 percent of the vehicles on the road are uninsured. If you are hit by one of these drivers and do not have uninsured motorist coverage, you will be left with no source of recovery for the damage to your car, your medical bills, your lost wages or your pain and suffering.
Like uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured motorist coverage provides for recovery when you are harmed by someone who is inadequately insured. California’s state minimum liability insurance requirement is $15,000. This is less than an ambulance ride and a trauma exam in most cases. If you are hit by someone with minimum coverage and you have $100,000 in underinsured motorist coverage, you can collect an additional $85,000 from your own carrier to help pay for your damages (including pain and suffering).
You might question: “Why don’t I get an additional $100,000?” Well, if you were in another state, such as Arizona, you would. But here in California, the insurance lobby is well-monied and, therefore, very powerful in Sacramento and they have fought off the efforts of consumer attorneys to provide insureds with the full value of their insurance policies.
Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is not that expensive and the protection that it provides is invaluable when tragedy strikes. All too often we have seen people injured once by a collision only to be injured again when they find out that the driver who hit them has no insurance to pay for the damages.
So, talk to your insurance broker. The several hundred dollars a year in extra premium is well worth the protection.