The maze of policies and supplemental policies can get complicated quickly. First off, most personal auto insurance plans don’t cover workers when they’re driving for hire. Secondly, payouts vary based on the trip phase: Transporting passengers, traveling to pick them up, and waiting for a new ride can all come with different benefits. If a driver turns the app off to pick up a snack or use the bathroom, their work policy no longer applies. Some policies contain exclusions for certain circumstances, like physical assault. California’s Prop 22 mandates more coverage than laws in other states, including survivor benefits, but payouts can still be denied on grounds such as fault or engagement in “personal activities.”
One evening this February, Agha Raza Ali received a phone call from his aunt. His 71-year-old uncle, Abdul Rauf Khan, was late coming home, and she was starting to worry. Agha and Abdul ran a limousine service together in the Washington, DC, area, but after the pandemic hurt their business, Abdul decided to drive for Lyft instead of collecting unemployment. “I have my health and power, so I’m going to work,” Agha recalls him saying. The police could not conduct a search until he had been missing for 12 hours, and Lyft would not turn over his location without a subpoena. Agha drove around searching for hours. Finally, around 3 am, police arrived at his door. Abdul had been shot during a carjacking and died. His 17-year-old passenger was arrested and reportedly confessed to the killing.
The family was devastated. Abdul had been like a father to Agha and a pillar of the local Pakistani community.
Abdul supported his wife and 17-year-old daughter. Because his insurance policy did not include survivor benefits and wage replacement, they were on their own. Abdul says Lyft told his brother they would volunteer to pay for the burial expenses. When asked why it offered to pay expenses for Abdul and not Bella, Lyft would not comment on specific cases but said it attempts to provide support based on each family’s specific needs. Uber also doles out assistance on a case-by-case basis.
Agha and his family didn’t want to ask the community for money, so family members chipped in to support his wife and daughter. “He was the one who was working, so now we have to figure out how to survive,” says Agha. He thinks Lyft “should understand that somebody’s working. They should be compensated if something like this happens, if he loses his life on the job.” Additionally, he would like to see the company require identity verification for all passengers.
To address the crisis, GWR makes four demands: Payments to victims’ families equivalent to workers’ compensation; an end to forced arbitration, which limits the evidence workers are able to collect when they bring a case and keeps the information out of the public realm; detailed transparent reporting of harassments, assaults, and fatalities; and a union, which would allow workers to collectively bargain over safety. In response, Lyft cited its annual safety report, its outreach to victims, and its Driver Advisory Council, which collects feedback from drivers.
The report adds a new dimension to the swirling debate over Prop 22 copycats, which aim to cement app-based drivers’ status as independent contractors. Companies are spending big to get a Prop 22-style ballot measure passed in Massachusetts this fall, and more are expected to follow. In addition to their scant protections, gig workers often receive low pay given the risks they assume, and their independent contractor status exempts them from minimum-wage laws.
Bella “lost her life over a trip [that totaled] $15,” says Allyssa. “And she wasn’t even going to see all of that.”
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