A Case Study on Rideshare Auto Insurance: A Cautionary Tale

As a self-employed free agent in the Cosmos, I have been working in the so-called "gig economy" for some time now, providing goods and services, both skilled an unskilled, for people who need them. It's a great way to live a freelance lifestyle, not beholden to Corporate America, whilst I pursue graduate school. Much of this freelance business is conducted with the aid of the multitude of online marketplace apps that exist to support this growing segment of the economy. Due to having a pretty awesome life, my principle service occupation currently is professional lifestyle coaching while I pursue my Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

Lifestyle coaching alone does not pay all of the, albeit fairly inexpensive, monthly bills I have (contrary to several ongoing reality TV shows, financial frugality and staying out of debt are "necessary, but not sufficient" key requirements for free agency and optimal lifestyle). So I have been supplementing my income with mutliple income streams, like performing music, walking or sitting peoples' dogs, and selling stuff online (fyi, it's a simple and easy way to monetize your spring cleaning...). Until recently, one of these income streams was driving rideshare for Uber and Lyft, services where you basically use your car to drive people around and get paid for it. It wasn't great money (after gas and expenses), but it "kept the wolf from the door," as my mother who grew up in the Depression era likes to say (Hi, Mom!).

I had been driving rideshare almost full time for over two years, largely without incident of the accident variety, though there were a few close calls. My wife says I am a great driver, and I am, but as a staunch realist, I knew that it was statistically probable that at some point I would be in an actual automobile accident, notwithstanding my prior excellent driving history and high rating as a rideshare driver (the top rated driver in Madison WI, in fact). It wasn't my driving I was worried about. Given the ridiculously high number of bad and aggressive drivers in this town, as well as the many death defying bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the road on the university campus, I'm surprised I went for as long as I did without an accident. Before I started driving rideshare, I had done all my homework on the ins and outs of rideshare insurance coverage, but none of it prepared me for the reality of it.

This is a cautionary tale for other rideshare drivers who might not be as educated on this subject as they should be. As you will see, my story is not unusual or exceptional. If you are a rideshare driver, this could happen to you. So educate yourself and be prepared. I am not advocating that you quit driving for rideshare, just that you know the risks. The rideshare companies do not want this information publicized for reasons that will become clear, so I am giving you the information that they won't. Everything I recount here is factual and documented as it happened. Any opinions I express are solely my own and you are free to agree or disagree.

On the morning of Wednesday May 10, 2017, I had my first fender bender while driving rideshare, for the service called Lyft in this case (Note: This case study does not apply to Uber per se, but many of the issues raised apply to other rideshare services as well).

Although the accident experience and aftermath mostly totally sucked, I decided to spin it into a positive by making it a proverbial "teachable moment" on the facts about rideshare auto insurance coverage, because my situation was pretty normal. There were actually some quite beneficial outcomes, retrospectively, that I will get to at the end of this piece.

I knew from my prior research there was a ton of misinformation out there about insurance coverage in the rideshare industry. Everyone I talked to on the subject had a different spin on the "facts." I did a lot of my own research on rideshare insurance coverage before I started driving for Uber and Lyft, and I understood it pretty well "on paper," but even so I was not entirely sure I understood it all in a real and practical way. As a result of this experience, I now have a better grasp of that and - *spoiler alert* - do not intend to have rideshare as part of my gig repertoire going forward. Hopefully, my experience will shed light on the reality of it for other rideshare drivers out there trying to make their way in the "gig economy." So here's what went down after my accident and what I learned.

The details of the actual accident are inconsequential. Suffice to say, it was a fairly minor fender bender involving two cars and no one was hurt, but the damage to my car was sufficient to warrant an insurance claim. It was one of those "the other car came out of nowhere" situations where it is hard to say who was at fault, but since this is my piece, I will say it was the other guy. As I said, I am a great driver with a clean record, and I did everything right in this case.

The first thing anyone should do when they are in an accident is to first check if everyone in the car is OK and then call 911 as soon as it is safe to do so, no matter how seemingly insignificant the accident is, because a police report is usually required for insurance claims. When the police arrive, give them as much information as possible, and be sure to get the police report along with the other driver's contact and insurance information. After my fender bender, I did all these things right and stayed as calm as possible. I confirmed that my one passenger was OK and then I pulled my car over to a safe location out of traffic, where I called 911 on my smartphone and reported my location to the dispatcher. The other driver got out of his car and approached my car while I was on the 911 call. NEVER DO THAT! Always wait until the police arrive before doing anything else and only leave your car if it is dangerous to stay in it. I stayed in my car and only rolled down my window to tell the other driver I was on the phone with 911. He went back to his car and we waited.

A policeman arrived shortly thereafter and got the ball rolling on our accounts of the accident. He gave me and the other driver forms on which to put our contact and insurance info, then we swapped forms. That pretty much concluded the actual incident. I was shaken up, but everything went as smoothly as could be hoped and the police officer was very helpful.

According to Lyft's driver portal online (at the time of the incident), the next step in the accident reporting process, after getting the police report, is to contact Lyft's Trust and Safety team so they can start processing a claim with Lyft's insurance carrier. At this point, I need to inject some personal opinion: Lyft does not make this process easy for their drivers. First, I had to navigate my way through several screens of the Lyft dashboard on my phone to find the accident reporting section. That stuff should be right up front, but it wasn't. When you get to the proper section, there is no phone number available to call Lyft's Trust and Safety team directly. Instead, you have to enter your own phone number on one of the screens and request that they call you. Primitive, cumbersome, and frustrating. No one wants to deal with hurdles in an already stressful situation. I requested a call from Lyft and my phone started ringing almost immediately. Timely. But when I answered the call, I found myself on hold for several minutes waiting to talk to a real person. When I got through to someone, they gathered all the pertinent information and said they would forward it to the claims department of Lyft's insurance provider - about which there is remarkably little information provided by Lyft to driver's - and someone would reach out to me. (Author's Note: It is not clear from Lyft's Certificate of Insurance, which I had both downloaded to my smart phone and printed off for ease of accessing it in my car, who their insurance provider is. There are literally at least three different companies involved in the state of Wisconsin: Marsh, Steadfast, and/or York. I mostly dealt with York, but the parent company appears to be Steadfast.).

Two days after the accident, I received an email from an insurance adjuster with York named Shelita Thomas. The email outlined York's insurance policies and procedures and what was required of me to process my claim.

Lyft's deductible for insurance claims is a catastrophically high $2500 per claim (FYI, Uber's deductible is only $1000 per claim). Probably by design, a deductible that high makes most minor accidents not even worth reporting to insurance. However, as a result of my prior research on rideshare insurance, I had fortuitously added a rideshare "rider" to my personal auto insurance policy (with Allstate). This rider is offered by some personal auto insurance providers now, because rideshare has become so popular. Allstate does not cover their customers when they are driving for rideshare services. The main purpose of the rider is to effectively lower the rideshare insurance deductible to equal the personal auto insurance  deductible. My deductible with Allstate was $1000 per claim at the time, so the rideshare gap coverage rider on my personal auto policy meant that Allstate would cover the difference between Lyft's deductible and Allstate's ($1500 in this case) if I made a claim while driving rideshare. As a result, it was worth it for me to file a claim with Lyft's insurance provider, since it was likely my repairs would exceed $2500, based on a ballpark estimate I got from a body shop on the day of the accident. If you are a rideshare driver, ask your personal insurance provider if they offer a rideshare rider. I strongly recommend it, or else you may be out a lot of money on repairs.

Shelita at York requested I get a repair estimate from a body shop and submit it to her along with some additional documentation about my personal auto insurance and the police report. I did all these things to the letter. Because Lyft's insurance coverage for drivers is national, they do not limit what auto repair service providers Lyft drivers can use for accident repairs, so I took my car to Ball Body Shop in Middleton WI, mainly because it is close to my house. This shop was not at all easy to work with and I will never use them in the future, though that is inconsequential to this case study. The reception staff there were so surly, rude, and unhelpful. That is the last thing people want when dealing with auto accident aftermath. I expect all service providers to treat potential customers like VIPs if they want my business; that seems like simple common sense business etiquette to me. This did not appear to be the philosophy of Ball Body Shop though. It's just lucky that I didn't go ballistic on the women at the reception desk, because I was near the end of my stress tether already after the accident. I held it together.

My repair technician was named Sean Allen and he wasn't very much help either. He arrived over 30 minutes late to work on the morning I was supposed to meet with him to get a formal estimate. Of course, the reception staff made no attempt to contact him or accommodate me while I waited, but preferred to willfully ignore me. When Sean looked at my car, he threw a lot of incomprehensible mumbo jumbo at me about the sketchy process for submitting an estimate to Lyft's insurance adjuster. It sounded way more complicated than it needed to be. It's possible the guy was simply lazy, incompetent, stoned, or some combination of those, but mainly he just appeared to be stalling for time for some reason.

It took Sean a few days to prep a written estimate, but he finally got around to submitting it via email to Shelita at York, the insurance adjuster assigned to my claim. It was now almost a week since the accident. Shelita had been totally uncooperative and uncommunicative with the body shop during that time, notwithstanding several requests that she work with Sean at the body shop directly. That was the first red flag that the process was going south. I was copied on the emailed estimate and was surprised to see that it exceeded the current market value of my car considerably, since Sean at the body shop had verbally quoted me at about half as much on the day of the accident. Maybe he saw an insurance claim payday in his future, but if so he significantly overplayed his hand, as I will explain shortly. It was up to Lyft's insurance adjuster Shelita to determine if my car was totaled or if they would pay for the repairs (minus deductible). That's why Sean's high repair estimate surprised me. If the car were totaled, Ball Auto Body would get nothing out of the deal, but as I said earlier, getting peoples' business does not seem to be a primary goal for this particular body shop.

Lyft's insurance adjuster told me my claim would be processed within 24-48 hours after she had received the body shop estimate. She had already received all the other required documentation. The body shop guy copied me on the estimate he submitted to Shelita via email, so I knew exactly when she had received it, about midday on Tuesday, May 16. So I should have had a response by May 18 at the latest. Needless to say, I didn't. In fact, as soon as the repair estimate was submitted, the insurance adjuster went completely radio silent on me for several days. I could not reach her by phone nor email and all my inquiries went unanswered. I was pissed. I thought maybe she had retired or taken a long vacation. I tried contacting her supervisor who also ignored my calls and emails. When I complained to the Lyft Trust and Safety team directly, they assured me someone would follow up. No one did. Days passed.
I was not sure what steps to take next, but I was now certain I was getting the runaround from Lyft's insurance provider and probably Lyft as well. Fortuitously, my wife's dad is a lawyer. He told me to take my issue to the Office of the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance, kind of like a Better Business Bureau specific to insurance providers, which I did on Tuesday May 23, now almost a full fortnight after the fender bender. This government body handles insurance complaints like mine and has a process for expediting them. When I called them and described my situation to the nice customer service lady, she told me to definitely file an official complaint against Lyft's insurance provider online, which I did, optimistic that they might actually be able to help me get my claim moved forward and processed. After I submitted my complaint with all the relevant documentation attached, I got a confirmation that they had received it and would assess it for followup. They said the insurance company would have 20 days to respond to the complaint. More waiting...

At the end of the third week after the accident, on Tuesday 5/30/17, I received an unsolicited email from a California appraisal company I had never heard of, TTA, which was associated with Lyft's insurance company, Steadfast (parent comapny to York, I guess). Attached to the email was a repair estimate for my car that was completely contradictory to and about four thousand dollars less than the estimate I had gotten from Ball Body Shop. What the hell was this? I probably should not have been as surprised as I was that this new, arbitrary estimate put the cost of repairing my car at almost exactly the amount of the deductible on Lyft's insurance. TTA had basically fudged some numbers to ensure they would not have to pay out any money to repair my car. I immediately added this documentation to my complaint with the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance. If TTA's estimate had had any legitimacy, that would have surprised me and destroyed any faith I had on the ethics and fairness of rideshare insurance companies. On TTA's estimate, they claimed they had inspected my car at my local auto body shop, which was false and would have been impossible since my car was in my garage at home when they claimed they inspected it. I only had my car at the body shop for about 30 minutes when they gave me the first repair estimate, before Lyft's adjuster had even received any information about it, then I drove home and I have not had my car out of the garage since. So TTA was clearly attempting something underhanded, possibly even illegal.

And the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance's officer assigned to my complaint must have thought so too. Almost as soon as I added this additional information to my complaint with OCI, I received a very apologetic email from previously radio silent Shelita Thomas at York telling me that my claim would be paid at the full value of my initial estimate from Ball Body Shop and a check was in tha mail.

The hassles didn't quite end there. When I talked to Sean at the body shop, he had now changed his tune. He said that Ball did not want to repair my car after all, afraid that they would find additional repairs once they got into it (making their initial estimate of repairs seem kind of useless, in my opinion) that they might not be able to complete if the cost exceeded the current value of my car. Sean told me their hands were tied by state laws, and that may be true, but I think he also saw the writing on the wall...with all the trouble I had had getting any money out of York, he probably thought it wasn't worth the effort to do any additional repairs that they might never get paid for. The dollar signs in his eyes had been extinguished by York's irresponsibility. In the end, this worked to my advantage. Long story short, York reversed its initial decision and decided my claim was a total loss, issuing me a substantial payment for the full current market value of my car (minus Lyft's deductible, but plus Allstate's gap coverage). This meant that I had to forfeit my car to a salvage company contracted by York, and now I am sans car and no longer using rideshare as an income stream. Even if I had a new car, the experience above provided a substantial deterrence for me ever driving rideshare again. Sorry, Uber. I know this was not your fault here and if you want to make a case to me for driving for you in the future, have at it. However, I shant drive for Lyft again.

Interestingly, of all the parties involved in helping me, my personal auto insurance provider, Allstate, was the most helpful, even though they didn't have much of a stake in the matter and are actually losing money on me, to date (the rideshare rider has only been in place a few months and costs about $80 extra per year on my personal policy). They are professionals though, and they recognize the value of customer service for getting future business, which none of the other parties involved in this seem to get. Because of the care and timeliness I received from agents Andrea and Kelly at Allstate, I am likely to stay with them as my insurer for years to come. They'll presumably get their money's worth out of me eventually.

Lyft's insurance provider York was about as useful as zero and provided nothing of value as far as I can tell. Her job seems to be stalling insurance claims by Lyft driver's, which probably works in Lyft's favor some of the time...like when the affected driver doesn't have a family lawyer or know they can go to the state Insurance Commissioner and complain. But I did and government bureaucracy worked in my favor.

As I alluded to earlier, this experience has had some silver linings. Suddenly finding myself car-less after this incident has had some major benefits to my life. First of all, I'm saving money, because I am not paying for a car loan, insurance, registration, gas, and general maintenance costs on a car. I don't know exactly  how much money I spent on my car every year, but it had to be a few thousand dollars all told, just off the top of my head. My Prius was a pretty reliable and efficient car, but it needed oil changes and gas and occasionally new tires, especially since driving rideshare put a lot of miles on it. Additionally, I've started to realize that driving rideshare isn't that lucrative once you subtract out these overhead costs. There were some perks, like a fuel card from Uber and being able to stop and start rideshare driving whenever I wanted to based on my own schedule, but these were mostly nominal, not monetary, advantages.

Second, I am riding my bike more and exploring public transit options in my town. This is good for my physical and mental fitness as well as for the local and global environment. I'm not pumping carbon into the atmosphere (yes, even Prius's produce smog, as well as "smug"). I have two solid bikes and the bus system in Madison WI is pretty good. My wife Deborah has a car and we now share it. This has not been too challenging logistically, certainly not challenging enough to warrant the expense and headaches of a whole new car for me. She works three days a week, only about a mile and a half from our house. Sometimes she bikes to work. Other times, I drive her there, if the weather is bad or I need the car for errands during the day, and then I pick her up. When I have shows to perform, her car has ample space for hauling my music gear and there has never been a time conflict with this, since many shows are late at night on the weekends. If Deborah doesn't come with me to the shows, it's usually because she is at home asleep. I also have options to car pool to shows with my band mates. Mostly, I just find having a car unnecessary and it's very liberating and anxiety-reducing having one less fairly major thing to worry about.

I hope that case study was helpful, fellow rideshare drivers. Thanks for reading and good luck.

At This Point I Don't Think Trump Even Can Be Removed From Office

It's pretty clear that Donald Trump and his cronies are up to some seriously dark and shady business, but at this point I don't think it would be possible to remove Donald Trump from office, even if/when explicit criminality is discovered.

That's because to do so, Americans would have to collectively admit that their Democracy is completely broken and feel immense shame that Trump was allowed to get as far as he has, due to an irresponsible corporate media, a defanged and ineffectual justice system, and a complacent and apathetic public. Americans just won't do that, even in the face of cold hard #reality.

Discuss in the comments below.

Dear Republicans...How Are You Sucking So Bad?

Dear Republicans,

You have the White House and both Houses of Congress.

How are you sucking so badly at doing anything?

Please leave your answers below in the Comments.

Note: Americans are glad your diabolical and malicious plans are failing, don't get me wrong. Keep it up!

Live Your Life as if Donald Trump Will Destroy the World

There is a bright side to Donald Trump's presidency, in fact the only one I can see at present. It has the potential to make you live your life more fully...because there might not be much time left to do so.

If, hypothetically, Donald Trump were to accidentally or willfully, say, start World War 3 tomorrow and end all life on Earth, what would you regret doing or not doing in your tragically truncated life?

There is no time like the present to go do the things you have always wanted to do, or quit doing that things you hate. Maybe it's your boring, soul-sucking day job that prevents you from traveling the world. Well, that window of opportunity might be closing because of Donald Trump's negligence and inadequacy to lead the free world. I recommend you fire your douchy boss and go travel! NOW!

Donald Trump's presidency is rapidly drawing to a close, if recent news reports on his alledged treasonous criminality prove true (though there is no absolute truth, only alternative facts, according to his handlers). Despite the apathy and inaction of Congress, law enforcement, the corporate mainstream media, and the American people (yes, you!) to do anything about it, the extent of the Trump crime family's alledged (and admitted!) high crimes and misdemeanors is simply too great to avoid eventual impeachment, or at least removal from office by the rules of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution. When the Trump reign of error (not a typo) ends, you can bet that Trump's narcissism will lead him to sabotage everything he can before he leaves office, most likely including the world.

So go have as much fun as you can before your quality of life plummets precipitously.