After Lyft crash, injured passenger got a crash course in changing the law

When Marie Stewart met Brian Fritts for a first date, he was wearing a neck brace. She quickly learned that Fritts, who does not drive and uses ride-sharing services to get around the Denver metro, was in a Lyft on Sept. 13, 2020, when he was chased off the road by a getaway driver; Fritts landed in the hospital with catastrophic injuries to his throat, jaw and spine.

“When he told me everything that had happened to him,” Stewart recalled, “I just didn’t understand how he was sitting there talking to me, because if that was me, I’d be in bed at complain about life.”

And Fritts had reason to complain. He discovered that due to a legal loophole allowing ride-sharing companies not to carry uninsured motorist insurance, he was responsible for all of his medical bills.

“I just thought that because it was a professional company, [Lyft] would cover everyone who used their services,” says Fritts. “It’s not. Well, it is now.

It is now thanks to Carpooling and Uninsured Motorist Insurance Coveragea bill sponsored by Rep. Steven Woodrow and Senator Faith Winter that Gov. Jared Polis signed into law on May 17. Fritts’ lawyer, Eric Fadishad brought the matter to Woodrow’s attention.

“I’m a self-represented consumer attorney,” Woodrow says. “I was surprised because I had no idea that these billion-dollar carpools weren’t covering people, so I immediately committed to closing that loophole.”

According to Faddis, individuals are allowed to opt out of uninsured motorist coverage and assume the risk of that choice: If someone without insurance or with insufficient insurance hits their car, they will have to pay that cost. Companies like Lyft and Uber aren’t at risk, because if an uninsured driver hits one of their driver’s cars, the driver and passengers end up paying those costs.

“There’s never been a case where Lyft, the company, is injured and has damages and needs this coverage,” Faddis says.

Click to enlarge

Eric Faddis (left), Brian Fritts and Marie Stewart are optimistic about the new law.

Catherine Cheshire

But Faddis discovered that the situation was even more complicated: people without a car or a driver’s license cannot buy coverage for uninsured motorists. Fritts couldn’t have protected himself even if he had known about the loophole.

Although the new legislation does not address this challenge, it has closed the loophole for ride-sharing companies. They are no longer allowed to opt out of uninsured motorist coverage; to operate in Colorado, they must have coverage of at least $200,000 per person and $400,000 per accident. Louisiana and New York, among others, adopted similar measures.

This coverage also applies to pain and suffering and loss of earning capacity. For Fritts, it could have helped make up for when he was exhausted after his shifts as a cook at Sportsbook Bar and Grill and didn’t have the energy to play with her child in the park. He also used to play Christian hip-hop, but his voice doesn’t sound the same due to damage to his throat and jaw, and it makes him too upset to continue writing songs.

Fritts continues to receive more and more medical bills, and none of them are covered. While the bill won’t help him retroactively, Fritts says it was an easy decision to try to change the law rather than take Lyft to court. “Me stressed out, it’s only going to create problems for me, no one else, so move on,” he says. “How can we change it?”

Stewart, who stuck around after that first date and is now Fritts’ girlfriend, saw how the push for the bill invigorated him. “You just started living life instead of being stuck on it,” she tells him. Fritts and his roommate, Charlie Hutchins, who was also in the accident, testified in favor of the proposal.

Click to enlarge Fritts wore a brace as he recovered from the accident.  - COURTESY OF ERIC FADDIS

Fritts wore a brace as he recovered from the accident.

Courtesy of Eric Faddis

The original bill proposed that ride-sharing companies have $1 million in coverage, but that was met with intense opposition from Republicans. The $200,000 and $400,000 caps were a compromise to pass the bill. “I thought everyone would be able to help consumers, but my colleagues across the way kept talking about Uber and Lyft like they were small businesses,” Woodrow said. .

Uber and Lyft are far from being small companies; Lyft reported revenue of $3.2 billion and Uber from $17.5 billion in 2021. Woodrow believes corporate lobbyists have provided Republicans with these talking points. The real small business owners affected are the ride-sharing drivers, who supported the bill; it will also protect injured drivers.

“At the end of the day, this was a really important bill, and I’m glad it passed. … I can’t wait for him to start helping people,” Woodrow says. Nearly 18 million people used Lyft in Q1 2022 and 118 million people used Uber in 2021.

The bill was signed the day after Fritts’ mother’s birthday. He felt it was like a gift, knowing that others won’t have to go through what he did. “It was my way forward,” he says. “It was like my closure. Won’t you help me? Now you have to help everyone.

Denise W. Whigham