California Law on Uber et Al.: Model for All States?

Three words in the insurance law may cause trouble.

On Sept. 17, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2293 (Bonilla) regulating insurance coverage for  transportation network companies (“TNCs,” such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar). Two purposes of the bill were: (1) to fill a possible gap in coverage caused by an exclusion in personal automobile policies and (2) to allocate responsibility between TNCs and personal automobile insurers for insurance coverage issues. The statute attempts to achieve its purposes by creating a “firewall.” When a driver is logged on to the TNC network, the insuring responsibility is on the TNC policy.  When a driver is logged off, responsibility is on the personal automobile insurer. Think of “Log On” and “Log Off” as bookends. One might expect this statute to become a model for other states struggling with similar issues. Unfortunately, some infelicitous language in the statute may undermine the desired clarity. The mischievous phrase is “in connection with.” Once a driver logs on, but before being matched with a fare (referred to as Period One), the statute requires a TNC policy of 50/100/30 (in other words, $50,000 of coverage for bodily injury per person, $100,000 for bodily injury per accident and $30,000 for property damage). The statute also requires an additional policy of $200,000 to cover any liability arising from a participating driver “using a vehicle in connection with a transportation network company’s online-enabled application or platform within the time periods specified in this subdivision . . . .”  [Emphasis added in all cases]. Assume a driver, while logged on, decides to drive over the river and through the woods to his grandmother’s house. A TNC could legitimately argue that this driving is no longer “in connection with a transportation network company’s online-enabled application or platform.” By taking a detour, the driver has abandoned the TNC work. If so, does the personal automobile insurance cover an injury caused on the way to grandma’s? Apparently not. Section 5434(b) of the new statute says the TNC policy covers the period from Log On until Log Off, or until the passenger exits the vehicle, whichever is later. For ease, think of this as the bookends again. Subdivision (b)(1) then provides that the personal auto policy “shall not provide any coverage” unless the policy expressly provides for that coverage “during the period of time to which this subdivision is applicable.” So, personal auto cannot provide “any coverage” within the bookends. These provisions may have created a gap within the bookends large enough to drive an SUV through. What about driving outside the bookends? Is that clearly covered only by the driver’s personal auto policy? The statute requires the TNC to advise the driver “that the driver’s personal automobile insurance policy will not provide coverage because the driver uses a vehicle in connection with a transportation network company’s online-enabled application or platform.” Thus, the statute permits (and perhaps mandates) personal automobile policies to exclude coverage for driving “in connection with . . . .” When is driving “in connection with?” The “Case of the Yoga and Yoghurt” provides a good analogy. The basic rule is that collisions that occur while “coming and going” to and from work are not the responsibility of one’s employer. Simple commuting is not within the “scope of employment.” When, however, a person uses her automobile for work purposes, the rule completely changes. Judy Bamberger, an employee of an insurance company, used her car during work to visit clients and carry out other work-related chores. On her way home, she decided to stop for yoga and yoghurt. As she made a left turn, she collided with a motorcyclist. Is the employer responsible? “Yes.” In Moradi v. Marsh USA, Inc., 210 Cal. App.4th 886 (2013), the court of appeal held that her driving fell within the scope of her employment because, since she used her car in her work, going to and from work conferred an “incidental benefit” on the employer. Put another way (although the court did not use these words), it was in connection with her employment. It would seem to follow that if one must use a car in an activity (such as TNC driving), then going to or from that activity is “in connection with” the activity. Because Period One (Log On) is part of a TNC’s “online-enabled application or platform,” driving to a surge zone with the intention of logging onto the app upon arrival is driving “in connection with” driving during Period One. If this analysis is correct, it again undermines the clarity of the App On/App Off bookends. It seems clear what the drafters had in mind, so this ambiguity could be remedied by clearly defining the meaning of “in connection with” – perhaps next legislative session. In the meantime, those considering using California’s law as a model may want to avoid importing this ambiguity.

Robert Peterson

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Robert Peterson

Professor Robert Peterson has been very active throughout his career with the Santa Clara University School of Law community. He served as associate dean for academic affairs of the law school for five years and is currently the director of graduate legal programs.


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