In a move that is sure to further frustrate Florida taxicab companies, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FDHSMV) has asked a Leon County, Florida, judge to dismiss a complaint requiring the state agency to clarify Uber and Lyft insurance requirements in the state.
In an Oct. 27 filing with the Leon County Court, FDHSMV claims the taxicab companies’ interpretation of the laws do not legally justify the court to grant a declaratory judgement and writ of mandamus.
The original lawsuit was initiated by taxi companies B&L Services Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Capital Transportation Inc. of Tallahassee, and individual Jeremy Lynch, as a means to finally get resolution to inquiries on the insurance requirements and regulations of the Florida ridesharing industry. The FDHSMV had failed to respond to numerous requests from the Florida taxi industry over whether for-hire passenger transportation vehicles used by Uber, Lyft and other TNCs comply with minimum insurance required by Florida statutes.
“We filed [the complaint] because there needs to be clarification relative to what is required for insurance on for-hire vehicles,” John Camillo, president of B&L Service, Inc., told Insurance Journal of the suit it filed back in September. “These are questions the DMV has not responded to that have been posed to it by the industry and governmental agencies.”
Judge George S. Reynolds III of the Second Judicial Court for Leon County ordered FDHSMV on Sept. 17 to respond within 40 days or he would issue a decision on the matter.
The response, however, is not what the taxi companies were looking for and may bring more questions than answers on who is ultimately responsible for regulating and enforcing insurance requirements of TNC companies. The matter now lies with the judge to decide.
Among its reasons for why the case should be dismissed, FDHSMV said that the taxi companies cannot request a declaratory judgement relating to the rights of another entity that is not named in the case – i.e. Uber and Lyft. Citing case law that says declaratory judgments cannot be issued in situations where the affected parties are not part of the proceedings, FDHSMV claims the taxi companies and the individual who filed the suit are not “appropriate” parties to request the declaratory judgement.
The motion also alleges that FDHSMV is merely the state agency that enforces already established laws, not the agency that determines the law when it comes to insurance. FDHSMV says the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) is the state agency ultimately responsible for setting insurance requirements for the ridesharing entities, and they are also not named in the original complaint.
“Here OIR is the state entity responsible for compliance and enforcement of the statutes and rules related to insurance requirements in Florida, including their interpretation. OIR is not party to this proceeding,” the dismissal motion states. “Therefore, this Court should refuse to enter the declaratory judgment requested by Plaintiffs and dismiss this action as being improperly brought by parties whose rights are not in question and whose action fails to include persons whose rights would be affected by such a declaration.”
FDHSMV claims the writ of mandamus sought in the Florida taxicab complaint also does not have merit, saying the Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate any “clear legal right to relief” and that their rights were not violated.
The taxicab companies claimed in their original complaint that FDHSMV had failed to uphold its duty of ensuring a for-hire passenger transportation vehicle is “insured at all times with the requisite commercial coverage,” as stated in Florida Statutes 324.031 and 324.031.
The taxi lawsuit claims the law is “clear and unambiguous” in mandating that a for-hire passenger transportation vehicle be insured at all times and it does not contemplate that a vehicle may only be an insured for-hire passenger transportation vehicle sometimes, but not at all times.
FDHSVM countered in their request for dismissal that this argument does not merit a response from the agency.
“Plaintiffs apparently request a writ of mandamus in order to compel the Department to follow their interpretation of [Florida Statute 324],” FDHSMV states in their response.
The FDHSMV argued against the taxi companies’ claims that the Uber James River insurance policy does not provide adequate limits or coverage for when ridesharing drivers are not logged into the app. In addition, it countered the complaint that James River is not a member of the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association as required by the statute can be subject to interpretation.
The response to the lawsuit cites two policies – the James River coverage and a policy from Old Republic Insurance Co. – as proof the rideshare company has insurance, which is what the agency is required to regulate.
Based on these facts, there is not enough evidence for the court to rule the FDHSMV has failed in upholding the regulations, the complaint states.
“Plaintiffs have demonstrated no clear error by the Department – to the contrary, it is Plaintiffs interpretation of [the statute] that is erroneous,” the agency said.
Both parties await the judge’s final decision on the matter, which will come after hearing where both sides will argue the merits of the motion. In the meantime, Camillo says he feels confident the judge will not grant the DMV’s request.
“A motion to dismiss is a legal tactic the DMV has engaged in to avoid answering a question of great importance to the Florida’s residents and visitors – what limits of insurance are required for vehicles transporting passengers for compensation?” Camillo wrote in a statement Nov. 2 to Insurance Journal. “Ultimately, we are looking for an answer to this question. The DMV’s position that the Plaintiffs’ have no standing to bring this case is without merit. The suit seeks to determine what insurance limits are necessary not just for Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft, but for all for-hire operators including the Plaintiff taxicab companies. Likewise the DMV’s position that the Department of Insurance regulates insurance, while correct, ignores the DMV’s responsibility to ensure compliance with Florida’s financial responsibility requirements. Compliance with the financial responsibility requirements is vested with the DMV and not the DOI.”
Camillo added that if higher limits are only required when passengers are being transported for compensation, taxicab companies will look for an insurance product that complies with that requirement, and carry lower limits when vehicles are not transporting passengers for compensation.
“The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is responsible for enforcing any state statute that oversees financial responsibility for motor vehicles under the provisions of the current law, Chapter 324, F.S.,” FDHSMV Press Secretary Alexis Bakofsky said in an e-mail to Insurance Journal.
FDHSMV said it could give no further comment on pending litigation.
As of now, OIR is not involved in this case. However, Commissioner Kevin McCarty’s office has stated in the past that Uber’s insurance policy is in excess of the state limits required by taxicabs and livery services and provides similar coverage.
“The policy appears to follow the typical business auto policies that are used by licensed and admitted carriers in Florida to provide coverage for commercial autos,” OIR Deputy Chief of Staff Monte Stevens said in a memo to the Hillsborough County, Florida, Public Transportation Commission earlier this year.
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