New Law Affecting Uber and Lyft Ridesharing Insurance Coverage

By Lauren Adler, Attorney at Law

With the help of mobile technology, the “sharing economy” is booming. Smartphone apps allow us to arrange services through a simple tap of the screen. Transportation, a service traditionally available only through public transit or taxis, is now offered by ordinary drivers using their own vehicles to take nearby passengers to their desired destination for a fee less expensive than a taxi and in a manner more efficient than a bus. Businesses like Lyft and Uber that offer this service, called ridesharing, have become wildly popular in cities like Seattle that do not boast of a stellar public transportation system. Now, you need not wait on the corner hoping a cab will drive by, or rely on a bus schedule that can be unpredictable. You can request a ride, get a price quote, enter your destination address, track your driver’s location and time estimate until arrival, and pay the fare without ever getting out your wallet. It is an enticing new way to get around.

However, until recently, insurance coverage to passengers in rideshare vehicles was questionable at best. Personal auto insurers caught on to the ridesharing phenomenon early and began inserting exclusions into their policies which barred coverage to anyone involved in a collision if the rideshare vehicle was used for “commercial, non-personal purposes.” This meant that the only coverage available to a person injured in a collision involving a rideshare vehicle was the coverage afforded by the ridesharing company itself, which was frequently minimal and sometimes non-existent. Prior to July 2015, rideshare insurance was completely unregulated in Washington State. There was a big risk to passengers climbing into an Uber or Lyft that, in the event of a car collision, they could be left underinsured or barred from coverage completely, depending on the at-fault driver’s personal policy, the rideshare driver’s personal policy, and whether the ridesharing company had decided to purchase any commercial insurance at all.

This all changed in July 2015 when the legislature enacted Senate Bill (SB) 5550. The new law establishes statewide mandatory minimum commercial insurance limits for all ridesharing vehicles on the roadway. SB 5550 creates regulations for “commercial transportation services” as separate and apart from other public transportation and vehicles for hire already regulated by state law. The law clarifies that commercial coverage must begin as soon as the driver logs into their ridesharing network and is waiting for a fare request.

At all times before the driver has accepted a ride, the law requires that the vehicle be covered with minimum liability benefits of up to $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident, as well as $30,000 for property damage, and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) benefits and Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage to the extent required by existing law (currently UIM minimum to match the liability coverage, and PIP minimum of $10,000).

Once the driver accepts a ride and is in route to pick up the passenger, the coverage increases to single limit liability coverage of $1 million, UIM coverage of $1 million, and PIP coverage to the extent required by existing law. This coverage remains in effect until the passenger exists the vehicle.

Under the law, the ridesharing company has the duty of obtaining proof that their affiliated drivers have insurance coverage. If they do not, the company must provide it anyway. Furthermore, if a driver is logged into more than one ridesharing network at the same time (both Uber and Lyft, for example), responsibility is split equally between the companies.

The new law also prohibits insurance companies from denying personal auto insurance coverage to an insured solely on the grounds that the vehicle is also used for ridesharing. This protects drivers who want to participate in the ridesharing economy, but need to still drive their cars for personal use.

The law also requires the ridesharing company to cooperate with all collision-related investigations and to retain all data and communications related to the crash for up to fourteen months.

SB 5550, now in effect, regulates ridesharing insurance coverage and is a drastic improvement in providing public safety to Washington citizens, given the widespread use of ridesharing. It ensures better coverage and protection for consumers using this new mode of transit.

If you have a patient who was injured while in a Lyft or Uber and they are getting the run-around from insurers, drivers, or ridesharing businesses on who is responsible for payment of treatment, simply have them give us a call for a complimentary consultation.

Hidden Cardiovascular Damage from Airbag Deployment in Motor Vehicle Collisions

By Steven J. Anglés, Attorney at Law

Ever since the first air bags became standard in passenger vehicles during the 1990s, there has been consistent debate over the amount of physical injury an airbag can cause versus the amount of physical injury it can prevent during a motor vehicle collision. There is little doubt that airbags can serve as one of the most potentially life-saving safety features in motor vehicle engineering by preventing drivers and passengers from impacting their steering wheels, windshields, or side windows, possibly reducing the severity of injuries to the brain and musculoskeletal system. However, there are also studies that show that airbags cause serious injuries in their own right. These range from visible injuries including friction burns, chemical burns, and bruising, to less immediately apparent trauma such as temporomandibular joint injury, orbital fractures, rib fractures, and spinal injuries.[1]   A 2014 study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology looks closely at the more difficult to detect injuries that stem from air bag trauma, such as cardiovascular trauma and complications from concussion.  Keep in mind that any injury, from a superficial burn to a concussion, can result from body-to-airbag impact, regardless of the speed of the crash. [2]

Researchers participating in the study utilized information spanning from 1970 to January 2013, and compared outcomes as a result of motor vehicle collisions including clinical /functional response, left ventricular remodeling, hospitalizations, and mortality. These researchers determined that initially unsuspected cardiaovascular damage due to non-penetrating chest trauma or thoracic trauma was a common occurrence with airbag deployment. The primary forms of cardiovascular injuries following airbag deployment were aortic transection, tricuspid-valve injury, right atrial rupture, cardiac contusion, myocardial infarction, aortic-valve avulsion, cardiac tamponade, and hemopericardium[3]. Unfortunately, due to the polytrauma that a patient can often experience as result of a vehicle collision significant enough to result in airbag deployment, it can be difficult to detect cardiac trauma early. The absence of chest pain or visible wounds can also lead to a missed or delayed diagnosis of cardiac irregularities. The researchers point to the right ventricle as particularly susceptible to injury due to its location directly behind the sternum, which can often bear the full force of a deploying airbag against the anterior chest wall. The right atrium was also found to be at significant risk as one of the thinnest vascular structures in the thorax.

The researchers also noted that lower-speed collisions when patients were positioned closer to the airbag at the time of deployment, particularly with shorter adults and those riding without seatbelts fastened, were more likely to produce cardiac injury from airbags.

Additional studies have also indicated that cardiac injury as a result of nonpenetrating chest or thoracic trauma may not manifest within the initial 48 hours post-trauma. [4] Arrhythmias such as ventricular tachycardias as a result of cardiac contusion caused by the heart itself moving, or surrounding organs and structures swinging to strike the heart have been known to develop up to one week following the initial trauma, and in some cases, up to one month later. During this time period, the heart may experience necrosis, inflammation, or fibrotic changes as the heart muscles attempt to heal.[5]

Patients diagnosed with cardiovascular injuries as a result of a motor vehicle collision may face challenges in presenting a claim for these injuries, particularly when there were no immediate symptoms recorded.

The attorneys at Adler Giersch ps can assist patients seeking guidance through a broad range of these medical-legal-insurance claims, such as the one highlighted in this article, and remain available for complimentary consultations. Please visit our website at http://www.adlergiersch.com, or contact us at 206-682-0300 for more information.


 

[1] L A Wallis, I Greaves; Injuries associated with airbag deployment; Emerg Med J 2002;19:490-493 doi:10.1136/emj.19.6.490.

[2] Khouzam RN, Al-Mawed S, Farah V, et al. Next-generation airbags and the possibility of negative outcomes due to thoracic injury. Can J Cardiol 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.cjca.2014.01.002.

[3] An accumulation of blood in the pericardial cavity

[4] Sakka S.G., Huettemann E., Giebe W., Reinhart K. Late cardiac arrhythmias after blunt chest trauma. Intensive Care Med. 2000;26:792–795. [PubMed]

[5] Hamilton W.J. Textbook of human anatomy. 2nd ed. CV Mosby Co; 1976. p. 225.

Notice of Proposed Class Action Settlement Involving Unfair PIP Reductions to Health Care Bills: MySpine vs USAA Casualty Insurance Company

By Jacob W. Gent, Attorney at Law

The Superior Court of Washington, Judge Theresa B. Doyle, recently published a “Notice of Proposed Settlement” related to a class action lawsuit against USAA that impacts the interests of BOTH patients and healthcare providers alike.   The class action lawsuit challenged the ongoing and repeated reductions to health care bills submitted for payment by the patient and/or provider under a patient’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverages of Washington auto insurance policies issued by USAA.

The Plaintiffs in this lawsuit include three Washington health care providers, MySpine, P.S, Olympic Physical Therapy, and Folweiler Chiropractic, P.S., and one individual, Lindsey Hayes, who carried PIP insurance with USAA.    The Defendants include United Services Automobile Association (USAA), USAA Casualty Insurance Company, USAA General Indemnity Company, and Garrison Property and Casualty Company.

The interests of two (2) separate but related “classes,” or groups of Plaintiffs, are represented in this class action.  The first consists of Washington health care providers who treated patients insured by USAA who were injured in a motor vehicle collision.  The second class is comprised of USAA PIP insureds who were injured in motor vehicle collisions and were treated by the health care providers included in the first class.

The Plaintiffs state the Defendants improperly reduced payments of medical bills under the PIP coverage of their Washington auto insurance policies.  The payment reductions were based on Defendants’ use of a computerized bill review process, known as the Milliman database, to determine the “reasonable fees” for health care services by comparing similar services rendered by healthcare providers within a given geographical area.  The payment reductions at issue in this class action are designated by certain “Reason Codes” listed on the Explanation of Reimbursement or “EOR” form, issued by the Defendants.  Specifically, Plaintiffs challenged Reason Codes with prefixes of “RF,” “RF_1,” and “RF_2.” The Defendants deny any liability or wrongdoing and maintain they have complied with their obligations under Washington law.

The parties have agreed to settle the lawsuit to avoid the cost, delay and uncertainly associated with continued litigation.  However, there are major concerns that remain outstanding issues that are not addressed by the proposed settlement agreement.  The time to speak up and speak out about these concerns is now, as the trial judge has set a hearing to consider whether or not to approve the proposed settlement.  That hearing is scheduled to occur on September 11, 2015.

The concerns surrounding the proposed settlement is that it does not effectively deal with the underlying use of the software program Milliman to reduce and/or deny PIP or Medical Payments claims in Washington, and the proposed settlement does not outlaw the continued use of the Milliman database going forward in time.   Further, if the Proposed Settlement becomes final, the lawsuit will be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the Defendants will receive a complete release and discharge of all claims and no further legal action may be brought against the same Defendants under this class action lawsuit.

Potential Class Members have several options available to them under the Proposed Settlement and should take immediate action to understand their legal rights before certain crucial deadlines affecting those rights expire.  Detailed information regarding the Proposed Settlement may be obtained by calling toll free 1-866-346-8468 or visiting www.MySpineSettlement.com.  Additionally, the attorneys at Adler Giersch, ps, are available to answer questions pertaining to this Notice of Proposed Settlement or other insurance and personal injury issues arising from the negligent conduct of others.

Annual BIAWA Gala Bigger Than Ever in 2014

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Victor Lystedt, Zackery Lystedt, and Richard H. Adler (photo credit: Nate Gowdy)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Victor Lystedt, Zackery Lystedt, and Richard H. Adler (photo credit: Nate Gowdy)

The eighth annual benefit auction for the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington (BIAWA), the Brain Injury Gala, was held on November 1, 2014 at the Westin in Downtown Seattle.  This was the largest attended with over 600 guests.  The Honorary Chair for the event was NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, who accepted the Leadership Award on behalf of the NFL for their commitment to passing components of Washington’s Zackery Lystedt Law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  The law firm was a sponsor for the event and hosted eight tables.  The auction rose over $550,000, a new record for the organization.

[Posted on www.Avvo.com]

Last year, a driver fell asleep at the wheel and struck my daughter’s car head-on. She had a bad cut and abrasion on her head, and an extremely bad break in her ankle. Her wrist was fractured, as well.
My husband and I were alarmed by our daughter’s description of the other driver’s behavior, making us believe he might not be a stand up kind of guy. We realized our daughter’s injuries were such that she would have a potentially bad facial scar and a lifetime of dealing with the extensive damage to her ankle. Thankfully, the other driver carried insurance, but we were concerned because he had the same insurance carrier we have. It stands to reason that the insurance company might be more concerned with protecting itself, as opposed to looking out for our daughter’s best interest. Hence, the search for a lawyer.
We consulted with three lawyers and Richard Adler seemed the obvious choice, though ultimately, it was to be my daughter’s call. I think it fair to say that she was impressed with Mr. Adler’s calm, friendly, approach. He outlined an anticipated progression of events, and a realistic potential financial outcome.
We never would have been able to navigate our way, on our own, through what can be a complicated process. We did not have the knowledge or familiarity of the insurance process to have known how to gain the maximum outcome for our daughter. Richard Adler and his staff handled it all with professionalism, and in a timely and pleasant manner. I believe they did all that was possible on her behalf. Also, it was hugely helpful and stress relieving to have Mr. Adler’s staff handling communications with the insurance companies (both car and medical), and dealing with payments to medical providers.
He and his staff had the foresight, and took the time, to give our daughter some great advice about not engaging in careless spending and considering investments instead. They also recommended she keep her financial situation private in order to avoid being asked to lend money, something that might not have occurred to us.
Hopefully, we will never require Mr. Adler’s services again, but I would not hesitate to utilize them, if needed, and I would heartily recommend him to anyone with a similar need.