Liability not an issue with rideshare ballot question
Nondrivers are covered by comprehensive insurance policies
MASSACHUSETTS VOTERS this fall may be asked to decide, through a proposed ballot question, whether app-based rideshare and delivery drivers are independent contractors with unprecedented flexibility and substantial benefits. The proposed ballot question has presented proponents and opponents alike with plenty of arguments and points of debate. However, the trial lawyers at the helm of the ballot question’s opposition are attempting to shift the discussion to a new point of argument: legal liability.
According to opponents, some of whom have made many millions of dollars in class action lawsuits, the ballot question would somehow limit consumers’ ability to sue transportation network companies (“TNCs”) in the event they are injured by a driver. That claim is not only at odds with the content of the ballot question, but ignores existing Massachusetts state laws regulating TNCs, like Uber and Lyft, which provide among the strongest protections in the entire United States.
First, let’s be clear: the proposed ballot question would bring additional protection for rideshare and delivery drivers, requiring all companies to purchase occupational accident insurance for each driver on their respective platforms. That required insurance would ensure that drivers who are injured while engaged in a ride or delivery are protected by up to $1 million to cover hospital bills or lost pay, and also cover death and burial benefits for the drivers’ families in the event of tragedy.
Second, that new requirement would be in addition to existing Massachusetts law, which already requires Uber, Lyft, and rideshare companies to provide $1 million automobile liability insurance for any drivers engaged in a ride. To put that amount in perspective, Massachusetts’ taxi drivers (who are also independent contractors) are only required to carry $20,000 in liability insurance. This liability insurance requirement was just one piece of the landmark 2016 Massachusetts rideshare law, which established what Gov. Charlie Baker’s office called “the most stringent ride-for-hire background check system of any state in the country.” The law created an entire division within the Department of Public Utilities specifically to regulate TNCs, oversee the background check system, and monitor compliance with the liability insurance requirement.
On top of that, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office – no stranger to lawsuits against Uber and Lyft – publicly argued on May 4, 2022, in front of the Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court, that the proposed ballot question, “read plainly and consistently with [its] purpose and text as a whole…would not regulate private tort lawsuits.”
There will be plenty of debate over the coming months around how rideshare and delivery drivers should be classified, as independent contractors or employees, and voters in Massachusetts absolutely should fully understand what the proposed ballot question will or will not do. But facts are facts, and the fact is that the proposed ballot question hardly limits riders’ options; to the contrary, it guarantees that non-drivers will continue to be protected by comprehensive insurance policies.Gary J. Lieberman is a management side employment lawyer.