the Gluck Legal Takeaway - Shopping Delivery Vehicles: are They Sufficiently insured?

By: 
Ronald Gluck

As cyclists ride during the months of December and January, the darkest months of the year, extra safety precautions have to be taken. Yes, dawn rides involve slippery roads and dusk rides involve early darkness during commuting hours. These conditions make riding more dangerous this time of year than during the summer. But during these months of darkness and slippery roads there is an additional risk for cyclists, particularly during the pandemic: the prevalence of shopping delivery vehicles on the roadways.

 Shoppers/delivery drivers are people working hard to support themselves and their families during these difficult times. They put themselves at risk by going into public places to shop for goods for their customers. That said, the drivers are often unfamiliar with their destination points. They stop and start their vehicles searching for houses. They pull over. Then move forward. They are often driving in ordinary passenger vehicles, without signage and without additional lighting.  And they may not be well insured.  

There is no law that requires these drivers to carry particular levels of liability insurance and many operate their vehicles with the minimum limits allowed by law. There is also no law that requires the companies for whom they are driving to provide them with any liability coverage. And, to make matters worse, those companies have been known to challenge whether the drivers are even employees for whose careless driving they are responsible in the event of an accident.  They try to classify the drivers as independent contractors.  

This could have significant ramifications for the cyclist if that delivery vehicle causes an accident resulting in serious personal injuries. Lost earnings and significant out of pocket medical bills may not covered by any insurance in these situations. The cyclist can face serious financial hardship.

Whereas Rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft insure their drivers with significant coverage limits while they are carrying passengers or are on their way to picking up passengers, some shopping delivery services, such as Instacart, do not insure their drivers while they are delivering goods to a client’s home. The contract that Instacart signs with the gig drivers does not include liability insurance, and as mentioned above, the driver’s personal automobile insurance policy may provide only minimal liability insurance. The question concerning limits of coverage can depend on what types of goods are being delivered and what type of vehicle is being driven. 

Delivery drivers using their own vehicles to make deliveries SHOULD carry sufficient liability limits that will protect them, and the public, in the event of an accident. Cost is a major obstacle to this. Typically, people working as shoppers are seeking extra income and are often not in a financial position to obtain extra insurance coverage that would protect them and the public in the event of an accident while they are delivering goods to people’s homes.  

There may be legislative solutions to these problems but those take time to materialize. As an example, individual states could enact legislation requiring companies, for which the drivers are shopping and delivering, to provide insurance coverage for the drivers. There would be an additional cost to the companies which would be passed on to the end user but it would be a small price to pay for the additional protection afforded to the drivers and the public. This type of legislation took hold nationally with respect to Rideshare vehicles. It would be not a reach to expand that type of legislation to Shopper/Delivery companies.  The Rideshare company Uber, which is mandated by law to provide insurance coverage for its drivers, has expanded that coverage to their Uber Eats drivers as well.  This is progress but, still, too many individuals who are shopping and delivering to homes across Massachusetts are likely driving without significant insurance coverage.

How can cyclists guard against financial disaster from an accident with one of these vehicles?  Other than taking all the safety precautions that you can and should take while riding, the answer goes back to a suggestion I made in one of my earlier columns: buy high levels of underinsured motorist coverage on your vehicle that is sitting at home while you are out riding your bike. This coverage protects you while you are cycling and essentially stands in the shoes of what should be significant insurance coverage provided by the at fault delivery driver or the company that enabled him or her to be delivering goods to people’s homes. It too is a small price to pay to protect yourself and your family from financial hardship that could result from a serious accident. The coverage is inexpensive so please speak to your insurance agent and make sure that you are properly insured.

I wish you all a healthy winter and a happy holiday season. I will be back in the spring with my next Legal Takeaway. In the meantime, enjoy riding and be safe out there! 

If you have questions about a particular incident or more generally about the subject matter of this column, feel free to contact Ron Gluck at gluck [at] bwglaw.com

Ron Gluck is a founder and principal at Breakstone White and Gluck in Boston. Throughout his 35 year legal career Ron has represented seriously injured individuals in a variety of cases including cycling accidents involving catastrophic injury and wrongful death. Ron is a CRW member.