Transport Cars

Insurance Boss and Uber Leader Trade Barbs in Liability Spat

Jun 23, 2014 4:00 pm

Skift Take

We’re waiting for the company that comes up with smart insurance policies geared toward sharing economy participants.

— Jason Clampet

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John Green  / Contra Costa Times/MCT

Phillip Zakhour picks up passenger Rickey Choi, left, while working for SideCar in San Francisco, California. John Green / Contra Costa Times/MCT


Auto insurance firm Esurance rejects two “fraudulent claims” in San Francisco per week filed by rideshare drivers, an Esurance executive tells VentureBeat.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Esurance executive is one of the first auto insurance leaders to come out directly against the ridesharing trend led by tech startups Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. The statistic above represents rideshare drivers in one city, caught by one insurance company, following an accident — the industry-wide crackdown may be significantly more aggressive.

Esurance’s statement contrasts with the claims of ridesharing heavyweight Uber. Uber offers commercial insurance to drivers, and that insurance kicks in when the driver is traveling to pick up a customer and when that driver has a customer in their vehicle, Uber says. At all other times, Uber insists that the driver is covered by their personal insurance. But some personal insurance companies say this isn’t the case.

Key to the issue is when commercial and personal activities begin and end. “It doesn’t necessarily matter than an app is on,” an Uber spokesperson told VentureBeat by phone, “somebody can just change their mind in a split second.” This argument blurs the lines of commercial use, and that lack of clarity has state agencies, traditional transportation firms, and even Uber’s own drivers up in arms.

According to Dave Sutton, spokesperson for an initiative of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA), “When a ‘ridesharing’ driver causes a crash he has two choices: Lose his private insurance because he’s not supposed to be driving commercially, or lose his job with Uber or Lyft. Of course, most drivers will choose to risk putting in a claim to their private insurance company. In this way, Uber and Lyft encourage drivers to commit fraud and pass on increased insurance costs to all consumers.”

Confronted with the Esurance exec’s claim, Uber called it “baseless,” and “a scare tactic.” The Uber spokesperson says “that’s really just them being passive aggressive.” According to Uber, “Insurance companies need to evolve.”

Sidecar offered VentureBeat a more constrained denial: “To our knowledge there hasn’t been an incident where a Sidecar driver’s personal insurer denied coverage for participating on the Sidecar platform,” a spokesperson said. Lyft did not respond to VentureBeat’s numerous requests for comment.

This article originally appeared on VentureBeat. 

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