For many decades, there weren’t many changes in the way Americans got around in motor vehicles. People either owned their own cars or motorcycles or took taxis and public transportation.
Things have changed dramatically in the last few years. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have changed the landscape in the transportation world. The explosion in use of these services has left many states scrambling to figure out how to deal with them. Many jurisdictions are grappling with questions about insurance requirements, employee vs. independent contractor status of drivers, and legally responsible parties in crashes.
Last year, Florida took legal steps to try and answer some of these questions. Under a law which became effective in 2017, vehicles used by “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft have to provide certain levels of protection to passengers and drivers. That coverage can either be carried by the driver or by the ride-sharing company, but it’s mandatory either way.
Basically, the coverage exists in tiers. When a driver is logged into their ride-sharing app, then there has to be $50,000 of coverage available to an injured person, with a total of $100,000 available for everyone involved in one crash. When a driver is actually carrying a passenger or has accepted a new passenger they haven’t picked up yet, the insurance requirement jumps to $1 million. That means people who use these transportation services are now assured of some recourse if a crash occurs.
Not everyone in the industry is thrilled about the terms of the new law. One critical feature is that it prevents ride-sharing drivers from being treated as employees. The new law states:
A [transportation network company] is not deemed to own, control, operate, direct, or manage the TNC vehicles or TNC drivers that connect to its digital network, except where agreed to by written contract, and is not a taxicab association or for-hire vehicle owner.
TNCs are also not considered “common carriers,” which are legally held to a higher standard in providing transportation to passengers. The more stringent requirements which apply to commercial motor vehicles also don’t apply to ride-share vehicles. Thus, the new law is a mixed bag overall when it comes to consumer protection.
The new statute may not be the last word on the sticky questions of law inherent in the ride-sharing model either. It’s possible that changes in federal law will supersede Florida’s statute if Congress opts for uniform nationwide regulation of these modes of transportation. Court decisions could also affect the landscape. For the time being, however, there’s some value to having clarity and guidance for Floridians who use these increasingly popular services.
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