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In court filing, state highway department approves of Uber’s insurance carrier

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The Uber ride-sharing service has faced sharp questioning from authorities about its insurance policies for its drivers in the year and a half it has been operating in Florida. However, there may finally be an answer.

This past year, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation decided that Uber’s $1 million commercial insurance policy with James River Insurance of Richmond, Va., met Florida requirements.

That didn’t end the controversy or confusion, though.

The question of whether Uber’s coverage, plus drivers’ personal motorist insurance, would meet coverage requirements of the Florida Financial Responsibility Law still remained unanswered. At the time of the OIR’s OK, Monte Stevens, deputy chief of staff, said that was up to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to decide.

The DHSMV, though, has never said anything definitive about James River Insurance.

A court filing this week may have provided the answer everyone has been waiting for.

The filing was a request from the DHSMV to the 2nd Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County that it dismiss a lawsuit filed in September by Tallahassee-based Capitol Transportation and Broward County’s B & L Services.

The two companies sued the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) contending that the cellphone app used by companies such as Uber to calculate fares is equivalent to a taxi meter. Therefore, they argued, the app should be subject to the same tests that ensure their metered fares are accurate. The lawsuit refers to other cases across the country of established taxi interests attempting to use the courts to halt Uber’s expansion.

“They both are necessary to compute the time and distance associated with a commercial passenger trip taken in a taxicab or a private car utilized by a [ride-sharing company] driver, in order to determine the customer’s fare,” the plaintiffs contend in their 96-page lawsuit.

In the DHSMV’s response, attorneys Stephen D. Hurm, Damaris E. Reynolds and Nicholas A. Merlin contend, ”Non-party Uber has produced two liability insurance policies which meet the insurance requirements of Florida law.” (our emphasis.)

“The first policy, referenced in Plaintiff’s Complaint, is issued by the James River Insurance Company, a surplus lines carrier authorized to business in Florida.” The attorneys also write that second policy is by Old Republican Insurance Co.

DHSMV representative Alexis Bakofsky, contacted for more information, replied via email, “As the Department is currently involved in pending litigation, we cannot provide further comment.”

Uber officials also could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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