A common question I get in my injury law practice is, “Who can I sue if I’m injured either as a pedestrian by a Massachusetts taxicab, or as a passenger in a taxicab?” That’s a good question. Answering it, sometimes, isn’t so easy.
That’s because of the arcane, byzantine way that taxicabs are licensed and “regulated” (I put that in quotes for good reason,) in Massachusetts. You see, to own and operate a taxicab business in almost any city or town in Massachusetts, requires a license. That license is called a “medallion,” and medallions are issued by cities and towns, who determine how many are issued. In large cities such as Boston, a relative handful of extremely wealthy individuals own the lion’s share of taxi medallions. These people essentially control the market for taxicabs in most large urban locations, such as Boston, Worcester and Springfield. Most of these individuals are millionaires. Nothing wrong with that – but there is plenty wrong with the way they do business.
And the cab drivers you see behind the wheel of any given cab in any given city? Who are they? They’re not employees of the taxi medallion owner. They’re just “solo operators” – what are legally called independent contractors. They pay a given amount of money to the cab owner (at least $100, and then even more under the table) to get the keys to drive one of the taxi owner’s taxis for a 12-hour shift. They aren’t in any way trained, they don’t work for the cab company owner – and most importantly – they don’t carry any liability insurance. Which means that if you’re injured by one of those taxicabs as a pedestrian on the street, or you’re in a taxicab as a passenger, that driver has no liability insurance to pay for your injuries.
“Oh,” you say. “But the cab owner/taxi company has liability insurance, correct?” Yes, and no. First, a little background on Massachusetts auto insurance claims: To register a private passenger car in Massachusetts and legally put it on the road, everyone must first produce proof to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, that they have purchased an auto insurance policy. There are several sections of the standard Massachusetts auto insurance policy, offering coverage for a variety of claims, from bodily injury, to collision, to car rentals. A lot of these coverages are optional (meaning the law doesn’t require you to buy them to register a car). However, Massachusetts law requires that everyone operating a motor vehicle in this state carry Bodily Injury liability insurance, to pay for the damages of anyone you may injure with your vehicle. The absolute minimum of Bodily Injury Liability insurance that everyone MUST carry in order to get a registration in Massachusetts, is called “20/40.” This provides coverage of $20,000 per person, up to a maximum of $40,000 per accident if you injure someone while driving your vehicle. When you consider that a single night in a hospital can run up to $10,000, requiring drivers to carry only “20/40″really is woefully inadequate. Now, that’s the law for you and me – ordinary people who aren’t running a taxi business. For a cab company, you’d think that the state would require them to carry much higher injury liability coverage than a maximum of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident, wouldn’t you?
Wrong. You see, the people who control the majority of the taxicab business in Massachusetts – very wealthy individuals who own the bulk of taxi “medallions,” or taxi licenses, in the state – have successfully lobbied the Massachusetts Legislature to only require them to carry pathetically low liability coverages of $20,000 per person/$40,000 per accident. That’s despite the fact that, as taxis, those vehicles are seven times more likely to be involved in an accident causing bodily injury, than a private vehicle owner. Seven times. Now I’ll provide some contrast, that will really show how strong the Massachusetts taxicab industry is, and how they’ve corrupted the Massachusetts Legislature when it comes to how little liability insurance they’re required to carry in their businesses:
• Bicycle courier businesses in Massachusetts –yes, bicycle couriers – are required to carry no less than $50,000 per accident in bodily injury liability insurance. If you’re injured in a Massachusetts bicycle courier accident, there’ll almost certainly be $50,000 in liability insurance to pay for your injuries and damages.
• Limousine companies – otherwise known as “livery companies” – re required by Massachusetts law to carry a MINIMUM of $1 million in bodily injury liability insurance. That means that if you are hit in a Massachusetts limousine-pedestrian accident, or are injured in a Massachusetts limousine accident, there should be at least $1 million available as insurance to pay for your damages.
And taxicabs? A maximum of $20,000 per person.
You see, in Massachusetts (as in most states and in Washington,) money talks. And the taxicab owners in this state have contributed heavily to grease the right palms on Beacon Hill, to prevent their having to pay more money in insurance premiums for higher injury liability limits. What’s the translation to all this? Massachusetts legislators – for the right amount of campaign contributions – are willing to put your financial well-being at enormous risk in the event you’re injured in a Massachusetts taxicab accident. And there’s little – very little – liability insurance to pay for what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages that you might incur from your injuries.
As a Boston, Massachusetts car accident lawyer, I find this repugnant and offensive. But aside from raising millions of dollars in lobbying money to counter the taxicab owners, the only way these laws will ever change, is to call and email your state legislator and demand that cab companies carry higher bodily injury liability insurance.
In the meantime, the best I can say as a Boston, Massachusetts taxi accident lawyer, is: Cross your fingers if you’re in or near a Massachusetts taxi.