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The Wheel Thing: Who's responsible when things go wrong in the 'sharing economy?'




An UBER application is shown as cars drive by in Washington, DC on March 25, 2015.
An UBER application is shown as cars drive by in Washington, DC on March 25, 2015.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

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Three years ago a driver for Uber X was involved in an accident that took the life of a pedestrian. The company claimed it wasn't responsible, because the driver didn't have an Uber passenger in the car at the time.

That led to a California law that requires ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, to provide insurance for drivers any time they have the service's app open. But there may still be times when drivers aren't covered, and many have found out, too late, that their personal auto insurance is void when they are engaged in commercial activity.

Now a couple of insurance firms have announced they'll offer special policies for ride-hailing drivers. What's not clear yet, is how much such policies will cost, or whether drivers will choose to purchase them.

What is clear is that on-demand transportation companies are not only disrupting the traditional taxi business, they're forcing insurance companies to re-evaluate their businesses as well. As the 'sharing economy' expands, and more people begin renting out their cars, homes and even things like power tools, there will be lots of new ways to be liable for damage. That means complications for both the people who sell insurance, and the people who buy it.