Cab companies may have bungled insurance for injured drivers, court rules

Call it the latest legal frontier in the city's cab wars.

A recent Colorado Court of Appeals decision, reinstating a severely injured Denver Yellow Cab driver's lawsuit against the company's insuror for allegedly failing to offer him adequate insurance, may open the door for similar claims by other injured drivers -- who maintain that the city's major cab companies routinely underinsure them and fail to provide worker's comp benefits when they're hurt.

Friction between the largest metro cab operations and their drivers, who work as independent contractors, has been running high for some time, as detailed in Joel Warner's 2010 cover story "Mean Streets." Allegations about racism directed at immigrant drivers led to a costly arbitration decision earlier this year against Yellow Cab.

For many drivers, though, the most unsettling part of the job is shelling out money for insurance to the company -- only to find out, usually after a devastating collision with someone who doesn't bother with insurance, that they don't have uninsured motorist coverage. Or worker's compensation benefits, for that matter.

The appeals decision comes in the case of Abbasher Saeed, a YC driver who contends he should have been offered uninsured-motorist coverage before the accident that sent him to the hospital. The insurance company, Old Republic, maintains that Yellow Cab -- the "named insured" on the policy -- declined the coverage on behalf of its drivers. Saeed's attorney, Keith Frankl, argues that Yellow and Old Republic misrepresented the coverage available to his client and should be held accountable.

While not ruling on the merits of Saeed's claims, the Court of Appeals did decide 2-1 that the case deserves a further hearing. It's one of three similar cases on behalf of injured drivers at Yellow and Metro Taxi that Frankl has brought, including one on behalf of a driver stabbed in the neck during a robbery and left paralyzed; all three were tossed out at the district level but might now have new life.

"In my opinion, the cab company is supposed to offer the driver uninsured motorist coverage when liability coverage is offered," Frankl says. "If you don't, and then the driver is hurt by an uninsured person, they're entitled to an amount equal to the liability coverage."

Whether Frankl can get other judges and juries to agree with his reading of the law isn't clear. But the lawsuits have already prompted some companies to review and expand the types of insurance and worker's comp benefits they offer their drivers, he says.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Yellow Cab takes a hit in arbitrator's decision on racism case."