Transportation

After a Lyft Accident, Brian Fritts Got a Crash Course in Changing the Law

The aftermath of Brian Fritts's Lyft crash.
The aftermath of Brian Fritts's Lyft crash. Courtesy Eric Faddis
When Marie Stewart met Brian Fritts for a first date, he was wearing a neck brace. She soon learned that Fritts, who doesn't drive and uses rideshare services to get around metro Denver, had been in a Lyft on September 13, 2020, when it was run off the road by a hit-and-run driver; Fritts landed in the hospital with catastrophic injuries to his throat, jaw and spine.

“When he told me about everything that happened to him," Stewart recalls, "I just didn't comprehend how he was sitting there talking to me, because if that were me, I'd be in bed complaining about life.”

And Fritts had plenty to complain about. He discovered that because a legal loophole allowed rideshare companies to opt out of purchasing uninsured motorist insurance, he was on the hook for all of his medical bills.

“I just thought that, because it was a professional company, [Lyft] would cover everybody that used their services,” Fritts says. “That's not the case. Well, it is now.”

It is now thanks to Rideshares and Uninsured Motorist Insurance Coverage, a bill sponsored by  Representative Steven Woodrow and Senator Faith Winter that Governor Jared Polis signed into law on May 17. Fritts’s lawyer, Eric Faddis, had brought the problem to Woodrow’s attention.

“I’m a lawyer who represents consumers myself,” Woodrow says. “I was taken aback, because I was completely unaware that these rideshares, which make billions of dollars, weren’t covering people, and so I was immediately committed to closing that loophole.”

According to Faddis, individuals are allowed to opt out of uninsured motorist coverage and take on the risk of that choice: If a person with no or insufficient insurance hits their car, they would have to pay those costs. Companies like Lyft and Uber don’t have any such risk, because if an uninsured driver hits one of their driver's cars, the driver and passengers end up paying those costs.

“There is never an instance in which Lyft, the company, is injured and has damages and needs that coverage,” Faddis says.
click to enlarge Eric Faddis (left), Brian Fritts and Marie Stewart are optimistic about the new law. - CATIE CHESHIRE
Eric Faddis (left), Brian Fritts and Marie Stewart are optimistic about the new law.
Catie Cheshire
But Faddis discovered that the situation was even more complicated: People without cars or driver’s licenses can’t purchase uninsured motorist coverage. Fritts couldn't have protected himself even if he'd known about the loophole.

While the new legislation doesn't deal with that challenge, it did close the loophole for rideshare companies. They are no longer allowed to opt out of uninsured motorist coverage; in order to operate in Colorado, they must have at least $200,000 in coverage per person and $400,000 per accident. Louisiana and New York City, among others, have passed similar measures.

That coverage also applies to pain and suffering and loss of earning capacity. For Fritts, that might have helped compensate for when he was exhausted after his shifts as a cook at Sportsbook Bar and Grill and didn't have the energy to play with his child in the park. He also used to perform Christian hip-hop, but his voice doesn’t sound the same because of the damage to his throat and jaw, and that makes him too upset to keep writing songs.

Fritts continues to get more medical bills, and none of them are covered. While the bill won't help him retroactively, Fritts says that it was an easy decision to try to change the law rather than pursue legal action against Lyft. “Me stressing over it, it's only going to create problems for me, nobody else, so move on,” he says. “How do we change it?”

Stewart, who stuck around after that first date and is now Fritts's girlfriend, saw how the push for the bill invigorated him. "You just started living life instead of being stuck on it," she says she told him. Both Fritts and his roommate, Charlie Hutchins, who was also in the crash, testified in support of the proposal.
click to enlarge Fritts wore a brace as he recovered from the crash. - COURTESY ERIC FADDIS
Fritts wore a brace as he recovered from the crash.
Courtesy Eric Faddis

The original bill proposed that rideshare companies have $1 million in coverage, but that faced intense opposition from Republicans. The $200,000 and $400,000 caps were a compromise to get the bill through. “I thought everyone would be able to get on board with helping consumers, but my colleagues across the aisle kept talking about Uber and Lyft as if they were small businesses,” Woodrow says.

Uber and Lyft are far from small businesses; Lyft reported revenues of $3.2 billion and Uber of $17.5 billion in 2021. Woodrow believes lobbyists for the companies provided Republicans with those talking points. The actual small-business people affected are the rideshare drivers, who supported the bill; it will protect injured drivers, too.

“At the end of the day, this was a really important bill, and I’m glad it passed. ... I can’t wait for it to start helping people,” Woodrow says. Almost 18 million people used Lyft in the first quarter of 2022, and 118 million people used Uber in 2021.

The bill was signed the day after Fritts's mother's birthday. He felt it was like a gift, knowing others won't have to go through what he did. “This was my way of moving on,” he says. “It was like my closure. You're not going to help me? Now you gotta help everybody.”
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire