Do you have a bill that you’ll never stop thinking about? Tell us about it.
THE PERSON: Melissa Schultz
AGE AT THE TIME: 45
PROFESSION: Lyft driver and self-employed marketing professional
THE BILL: $3,000
THE RUB: Melissa was hit by another car at a busy intersection while driving for Lyft. For more than two years, she has been dealing with bills, collection agencies, and multiple insurance companies.
I was driving for Lyft and Uber a little bit to get some extra cash. One day, I picked up some passengers near Downtown Los Angeles. I was at an intersection, in the lane going straight. There was some construction. But also, because of the way the road is constructed, you have to veer slightly to the left. Everybody in LA knows this intersection, I'm sure. The two left lanes must turn left and stay tight. If a driver delays in turning, they will run right into the traffic heading straight. Another driver and I were sitting side by side when the light turned green. All he had to do was put his foot on the break to avoid hitting me. But he didn't do that.
The driver was like, "You came over into me." I was like, "Look at the road."
Since I had passengers in the car, I wanted to get them to their destination as soon as possible, and there wasn't a lot of major damage at all. The other driver's bumper pretty much just had a scratch on it. So I left.
When I got back home to Long Beach, I contacted my insurance agent at State Farm right away. Of course, State Farm shut down [my claim]. Lyft said my insurance would cover me, but State Farm insisted that I needed additional [coverage] because I was transporting passengers for pay.
But when I reported the accident, Lyft shut down my account and said I couldn't drive my car. The company said my car wasn't drivable, full stop. Once Lyft figured out that I had had an accident, it was as if they viewed me completely different. I just got the feeling that Lyft wanted to move away from it as fast as possible, even though it was just a fender bender. [A Lyft spokesperson called this characterization of events false, saying company policy after an accident is to place a hold on a driver’s account while the company investigates and confirms the car is still in working condition.]
There were no witnesses, and, unfortunately, I didn't get the passenger’s information. I thought Lyft would provide it if I needed it. But they just looked in the opposite direction. They kept telling me to contact my own insurance company. Lyft's insurance company has a $2,500 deductible, and the damage wasn't up to that, so I said, "Whatever, don't worry about me." But I didn't know what was going to happen with the other driver. [Lyft said it defers to its insurance partners when it comes to determining insurance coverage.]
I directly contacted Progressive, [the other driver's insurance company]. I told them the whole story, and said that their driver was at fault. And of course, Progressive said that it was my fault. My car had around $2,000 damage. His vehicle had about $1,000. All of a sudden, I started getting these letters and phone calls from a consolidated debt company. It started in August 2018. Just nonstop emails and calls.
It didn't help that around the same time, a drunk driver had rear-ended me. So I had a lot of other bills on top of this, and I was getting double-hammered by all these letters, emails, and phone calls. I am transgender, too, and I was transitioning. It was a huge mess of anxiety and depression.
It said right on one of the letters from the agency that Progressive had hired, Credit Collection Services, that if I was insured at the time to let them know, and they'd pursue that. But the collection agency said that Lyft wouldn't be covering it. I told them to review the contract, because it states that if I'm driving for Lyft that they're liable. Progressive just seemed to ignore that.
Some senior representatives at Lyft did react with horror. They were, like, "Oh my God. I'm so sorry this happened to you." But then it always would get to point that they couldn't do anything, because it was in the hands of their insurance company. I was like, "Why would you hire a firm that's not going to do anything? Isn't that going to look bad on your organization?" But, for companies like Lyft, it seems like a numbers game. They don't really care about people; they just want to make money.
Eventually, I hired an attorney, who said that he would use his leverage to get everything situated. But that never happened, because nobody seemed to be appropriately corresponding with one another. I don't even know where it sits at this point; it's been around two years, and it never went to court or anything. And when I asked the agency that Progressive had hired if it was an actual debt-collection agency, they told me that they weren't. They were just some company paid to harass and hassle people.
I was just absolutely disgusted by the whole ordeal. I don't even like to go to the mailbox anymore, or answer the phone.
Lyft did reinstate me, though. At least they handled something promptly.
In response to this story, Progressive did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A State Farm representative provided this statement: "The State Farm personal auto policy specifically excludes coverage when a driver is carrying persons for a charge. However, we offer the State Farm Ridershare Driver coverage, which is an optional endorsement a policyholder can purchase which provides physical damage coverage for qualifying claims when driving for a TNC [transportation network company]. We introduced this coverage in California in 2016 to help fill insurance gaps for our policyholders who use their cars to provide rides for a TNC."
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.