By Jason R. Markle
Anyone who has ever ridden in a Boston taxi knows that they can be dangerous. The drivers are often in too much of a hurry to follow the rules of the road and those hard plexiglass or metal partitions are only about eighteen inches from your face. But even scarier than that is a recent three-part article by the Boston Globe which, in part, details just how scary a taxi ride can become.
In An Empire Built of Ambition and a Very Hard Edge, the Globe staff found that personal injury claims arising out of taxi accidents are rigged against accident victims. For starters, despite being under the umbrella of large corporations, the large majority of taxis in Massachusetts are extremely under-insured.
According to the Globe, about 80% of taxis operate with the state-minimum bodily injury insurance coverage of only $20,000 per person, $40,000 per accident. According to the state Division of Insurance, that’s less coverage than 85% of personal vehicles in Massachusetts, even though taxis have seven times as many accidents as typical personal vehicles. That coverage is also less than half of the $50,000 coverage required of bicycle messengers in Boston, and a tiny fraction of the $1 million coverage required for livery vehicles such as Boston Coach. And sadly, these minimum insurance policies are allowed because the Legislature has repeatedly ignored proposals to mandate more coverage for taxis.
In addition, large taxi companies shield themselves from liability from claims by calling taxi drivers “independent contractors,” rather than employees. As a result, accident victims often have no recourse against the larger corporate entities. To put this in perspective, Boston Cab controls one out of every five taxis in Boston and has taxi licenses worth more than $220 million. Yet, even when a taxi driver kills or maims a passenger or pedestrian, Boston Cab fights tooth and nail to limit it’s liability to the state-minimum insurance coverage of $20,000, if they even agree to pay that amount. These tactics lead to costly lawsuits that go on for years and clog up our courts.
As the Globe points out, the solution to this problem is simple. We need to demand of our legislators that they provide us with more protection. New York and Los Angeles each require minimum insurance coverage of $100,000 per person, $300,000 per accident. Dallas requires a minimum of at least $500,000 in insurance coverage.
For years, the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys and the Massachusetts Bar Association have advocated for increased minimum coverage for taxis. Insurance associations, such as Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, have fought that increase, stating that they generally oppose higher insurance minimums because insurers will have to pay larger claims. But what’s more important, insurance companies’ profits or our safety?