Drive Empower in DC - Where is the Insurance Coverage?
Rideshare platforms such as Uber and Lyft have joined taxis in being the go-to ways for people to move around town, especially after Metro and other buses have stopped running. However, while Uber and Lyft are recognized, multi-national platforms, a new platform called Empower is now working in the DC area, and this service is quite different from its competition. There may be some potential legal issues relating to driver insurance, and this poses some interesting questions regarding liability coverage - especially after car accidents.
Uber, Lyft, and a brand new platform called Alto, are classified as "Transportation Network Companies", or TNCs. This means that they provide an app to potential riders as well as drivers, and link people with drivers to get from A to B quickly and easily. Because these companies are recognized entities, they are regulated by the various states, including Washington DC.
Because of their classification as TNCs, they are required to have certain insurance coverages:
If the driver was signed out of the Lyft or Uber app and not awaiting a ride request, then their personal auto insurance applies (if, for example, that driver caused an accident).
If the driver was signed into the app and awaiting a ride request, then their personal insurance may still, the rideshare companies also carry contingent liability coverage in the amount of $50,000 per injured person, $100,000 total for injuries per accident, and $25,000 for property damage, if the driver’s personal insurance doesn’t cover the claim.
If the driver was picking up or transporting a passenger, the rideshare company’s full liability insurance applies: up to $1 million in bodily injury and property damage liability coverage.
In the event of a crash where the at-fault party has no car insurance, TNC's carry state minimum uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). In Virginia, that is only $30,000 per person, to an aggregate of $60,000 per accident.
While some of this coverage is woefully inadequate, specifically the uninsured and underinsured motor vehicle coverage, at least people know that some kind of insurance is in force after a car accident, in some fashion.
However, the Empower platform is a completely different story. Their website actually says that they do not provide any insurance!
Screenshot as of 12/7/23
After an accident, where a passenger is hurt, the passenger has a potential claim against a driver of that vehicle, if the driver of that vehicle acted negligently. If a person is a passenger in an Uber vehicle, and the Uber driver acted negligently, then the insurance coverage for that accident comes from Uber, or more accurately, from Uber's insurance carrier, Farmers Insurance.
If an Empower driver causes an accident, then there is a very serious question about where any insurance coverage is going to come from! Because there is no Empower insurance (as the company says, above), then that passenger is going to have to look for other potential insurance sources.
Here again is a serious problem. Most regular motor vehicle insurance policies written to private individuals - not companies - very clearly say that they will not provide coverage if the driver is providing rides for a fee!
Below are two examples of standard policy language from GEICO and Esurance (just to randomly pick two. We have edited out extraneous information).
These policies specifically deny liability, or to use the insurance term, disclaim coverage, in the event of a car accident! This presents a very serious concern to passengers who are getting into these cars. (NB - these are standard car insurance policies. A driver can purchase a special passenger transportation policy, and then these exclusion would not apply).
After a motor vehicle accident where there is no available insurance coverage, injured parties have to then look to their own motor vehicle insurance, and file a claim under the uninsured motorist portion of their own policies. However, someone without a vehicle at home is then going to be left with no viable insurance options at all! This means that the injured person may have no realistic recovery for medical bills, time lost from work, pain and suffering, and more.
The Washington, DC Department of For Hire Vehicles (DFHV) recognizes these concerns, among others. They have sent a "cease and desist" letter to Empower, and directed them to stop operating. However, as of the date of this article, that has not happened.
Empower has taken the position, per its CEO, that it is dissimilar from Uber and Lyft, and more akin to Expedia or some other booking site. However, the insurance issues surrounding a motor vehicle accident have not yet been tried in Court, and ruled on.
Blaszkow Legal wants people to recognize the risks of being a passenger on such a platform, when there is, at this time, no liability insurance coverage to protect you, in the event of a DC car accident.
What You Need To Do If You Are Involved in a Car Accident With an Empower Vehicle?
If you are hurt as the result of an accident involving an Empower driver, then you need to take the following steps to protect your interests immediately:
Call the police. Do not try to jump into another ride, without getting all of the information that you need to be able to properly document your claim. The police will take a report, or at the very least, facilitate the exchange of information.
Get the contact information for all parties involved. Do not ever rely on someone's car insurance card, because that car does not tell you who is driving the vehicle. You always need to get a copy of every involved person's driver's license.
Take lots of pictures! It is always the claimant's responsibility to prove the case, and the best way to do to that is through evidence. So always get plenty of pictures and videos of everything relating to the accident. This can be debris, street signs, traffic lights, damage to all vehicles, tire marks on the roadway - everything!
Get checked out. If you have been hurt, then you need to go to a hospital right away. If you aren't very seriously hurt, then go to an urgent care center, but it is important that you get a comprehensive check up, to make sure that there are no serious injuries, such as internal injuries or concussions, that may not be immediately apparent.
Call Blaszkow Legal. Speak to an experienced car accident attorney immediately! Do not talk to any insurance companies, including your own. Because of the insurance issues set out above, it is very possible that this may have to proceed as an uninsured motorist claim, and you do not want any insurance adjuster to use anything that you say, against you.
This article is in no way intended to suggest that Empower is a bad company, or that the drivers who work for this app are in any way bad people or automatically negligent drivers. However, the presence of insurance coverage is extremely important, because accidents can and do happen! Collisions in DC, in Virginia, and Maryland are on the rise, and it is our job to make sure that people who are hurt, have an adequate source of recovery after a collision.
If you have been hurt in an Empower car accident, or any Rideshare car accident in the DMV, call us today for a free consultation. 703-879-5910!
Virginia TNC Law: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodefull/title46.2/chapter20/article15/