Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which governs appeals for cases arising out of many western states, including California, affirmed a California law that banned “gay conversion therapy,” which prevents counselors and psychologists from trying to change the sexuality of a minor child.
Liberty Counsel, which represents the conservative groups seeking to overturn the law, has stated it will ask the Supreme Court to review the case. Liberty Counsel has filed two similar cases on change therapy in New Jersey after New Jersey passed a similar law banning state-licensed counselors from trying to help children under 18 reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction.
Similar bills have been proposed in Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Virginia and Washington.
Whose insurance company protects victims of ride-sharing accidents? For the first time in a long time, novel questions of auto liability insurance coverage are being raised through the growth of ride-sharing apps like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, or other similar mobile services that connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and offer ridesharing services.
For those of us over the age of 25 or anyone (perhaps willfully) ignorant of the latest crowdsourced venture du jour, a brief introduction to ridesharing services is necessary. The original ridesharing service, Uber, started as a venture-funded start-up and transportation network company founded in San Francisco, California that produces a mobile app connecting passengers to drivers for hire. After Uber received nearly $50 million in funding through groups of angel investors and expanded in major cities across the U.S., several competitors sprung up, including Lyft, Sidecar, and others.
In the past few months, a problem of insurance coverage has come up due to the occurrence of accidents involving ride-sharing drivers. On New Year’s Eve, January, 2014, a 6-year old girl was killed when an Uber-contracted driver collided with her. Uber completely denied liability, stating that they would not provide coverage because a passenger was not in the driver’s car at the time the accident happened – meaning, it was not an “official” Uber ride. The accident could have happened on the driver’s way to make a pick-up, between pick-ups, or on a personal trip. The details are yet unknown.
When accidents happen, the insurance company for the at-fault driver usually picks up and pays for the BI (bodily injury) and PD (property damage) claims. But for ride-sharing services, who is really responsible? The answer may come as a surprise.
In 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission gave Uber and similar transportation network companies a break by allowing them to forego requiring drivers to have commercial liability insurance. However, many personal auto policies do not cover claims for accidents when the driver is transporting passengers. Most policies have exclusions for operation of a vehicle if it is being used “as a public or livery conveyance” – meaning, transporting passengers for pay. So if Uber disclaims coverage, does not require drivers to have commercial auto coverage, and the coverage falls into an exclusion in the driver’s own personal auto liability policies, who is actually providing the coverage for injured victims? Hearing crickets? Perhaps this article should better be entitled, “More Reasons to Max-Out UIM/UM coverage.”
Unfortunately, drivers who sign up to offer ride-sharing services are often not with the financial means to afford commercial general liability coverage, which can be exponentially higher than personal auto coverage. Although ride-sharing services are supposed to maintain $1 million of liability insurance, per the requirements of the California Public Utilities Commission, this often does not cover damages to drivers’ cars. This particular risk affects drivers participating in ride-sharing services, because there is basically no source of insurance funds to pay for repairs to their cars or property damage, if they are hit by an at-fault driver with low or no insurance.
Moreover, the usual insurance company suspects that frequently provide auto liability coverage to Americans are also coming up short (anyone surprised?). In a filing with the California Public Utilities Commission in 2012, the Personal Insurance Federation of California, an industry group made up of State Farm, Farmers, Progressive, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Mercury and Nationwide, said it asked its members to determine how they would treat liability claims in ride-service accidents. In a press release after the CPUC ruling, the Association of California Insurance Companies, a trade association and lobbying group, said, “Both drivers and riders must understand that an accident in a ride-sharing vehicle will not be covered under a personal auto insurance policy.”
All of the foregoing, of course, raises other questions. Are the drivers of ridesharing services independent contractors or employees? Should drivers who are distracted by the sounds, noises, pings, and notifications on their mobile devices while trying to pick up a ride-sharing passenger be deemed negligent, or should the ride-sharing app bear some responsibility for designing a potentially dangerous product/device? Generally, when victims of an accident are injured by commercial drivers, they sue both the driver as well as the driver’s company. Can victims of auto accidents involving Uber drivers tack responsibility onto Uber, if it turns out their driver has no valid insurance coverage?
For the time being, there are no clear or easy answers. Drivers and passengers of ride-sharing apps should all exert caution. As with all matters in the insurance coverage world, with new changes in technology and social developments come new risks, and the great fanfare of offering new insurance policies to sell to unsuspecting citizens is surpassed only by the great labor and energy expended to carefully concoct exclusions with which to deny them.
A California Tea Party group, NorCal Tea Party Patriots, has sued the IRS yesterday, in connection with the recently revealed news that the federal government was scrutinizing them disparately because of their political affiliations.
According to Ginni Rapini, the group’s founding president, as told to KGO-ABC7 in San Francisco, the IRS requested voluminous data when they were applying for tax-exempt status. ’They wanted every email I had ever sent out,’ she said. ‘They wanted the transcripts of every speech from any speaker at any event, meeting or anything that we had had,” Rapini reported to ABC7. More than two years passed while their application remained pending.
NorCal Tea Party’s lawsuit asserts that the IRS has violated its rights under the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. They claim that the IRS “engaged in systematic discrimination based upon the speech, expressed viewpoints, and association of NorCal Tea Party Patriots, its members, and similarly situated groups.”
It is unclear to what extent the lawsuit was brought merely to make a statement in and of itself, given the likelihood that it will not ultimately succeed. Class actions, by their nature, require the injured victims to have suffered nearly-identical injuries so as to prove typicality among the class. It is hard to imagine how individualized tax-exempt applications are not unique to each tax-exempt applicant. Further, the Supreme Court previously refused to hold in the famous Dukes v. Wal-Mart matter that gender discrimination claimed by the female employees of Wal-Mart could be certified as a class.
Citizens know soon enough – with every class action comes a motion to dismiss.
Republican-Appointed Judges OK NSA to Hide Nature of Relationship with Google. A Reagan and Bush-appointed panel of judges has ruled that the National Security Agency (NSA) does not have to disclose anything about the relationship and involvement it has with Google, because it is apparently a “national security” matter. It would not be the first time Google has been accused of collaborating with government agencies (like the CIA) to spy on Americans.
Activists Call for Ban on Foie Gras. Effective July 1, 2012, California will be banning the force-feeding of fowl, including ducks for the production of foie gras. Animal Activists are now calling for a nationwide ban. Foie gras is banned in more than a dozen countries, and force-feeding is outlawed in the United Kingdom and several other European countries.
Consumer Fraud Lawsuit Against Fruit-Roll Ups Allowed to Proceed. A San Diego court has OK’d the lawsuit against General Mills to proceed, which alleges that Fruit Roll-Ups are deceptive and misleading because they do not actually contain any fruit.