Saturday, March 5, 2011

California's Workers' Comp Laws and San Francisco's Taxi Industry, A Cab Driver's Experience. By John Han

SF Taxi Driver Dean Clark.
The following is a highlight and recap of a discussion I had with SF taxi driver Dean Clark.

Clark is a gate and gas taxi driver working night shifts at National Cab.  Clark alleges that in April of 2010, his taxi was struck by another vehicle driven by an uninsured motorist at 8th St. and Minna, in which he had suffered, and still suffers from injuries unaccounted for today.  Here are the highlights of the accident, and the details of what later took place with the cab company, as they have been relayed to me.

In April of 2010, Clark was driving southbound on 8th St. in the far right lane.  A woman in another car was heading westbound on Minna.  She attempted to crossover 8th St to get to the other side of Minna, but in doing so, struck the front driver’s side of Clarks taxi, causing the taxi to spin.  Clark says that upon impact, the taxi’s seatbelt locking mechanism had failed, and that no airbags were deployed because the vehicle did not have any.  Consequently, Clark’s head hit the front windshield, and as the car spun, also hit the side window, causing blurred “temporary blindness”, for several hours.

He says his legs struck the front of the cars interior causing temporary loss in the use of his legs.  After being taken to General Hospital, his vision and limited use of his legs returned, although with numbness.

According to Clark’s telling of the accident, the cab company at the time, and possibly the police report, claimed that the woman had liability insurance.  But after filing a claim, the insurance company said that the woman’s policy had been canceled recently because of lack of payment, and then had then been reinstated, but only after the accident occurred.  Therefore, the woman’s insurance company denied the injury claim.  

This led to Clark being referred to National Cab’s attorney.  But Clark says the cab company’s attorney didn’t want to represent Clark in a workers’ comp claim nor defer him to another attorney.  Neither did the cab company post information about California’s Workers’ Compensation laws anywhere at the company where drivers could see it.

According to Clark, after National Cab had initially delayed in filing a workers’ comp claim, and then seemingly repudiated further attempt to do so, he contacted the cab company’s insurance carrier, which he identifies as Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association (PMA), a Pennsylvania lobbying firm. 

According to PMA’s website, the firm is involved in, “enacting workers’ compensation reform”, and since 1909, has been, “defending free enterprise and fighting to improve the competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s business climate.”

Clark says that when he contacted the firm, it had denied any knowledge of a policy number associated with National Cab, and that the medical bills resulting from the accident to date have gone unpaid.  After that incident, Clark sought help from a private attorney and is currently being represented by that attorney. 

In another matter not related to the accident, but related to Clark’s relationship to National Cab, an MRI revealed white spots in his brain. Clark says he believes it could be from long-term exposure to cab fumes. 

Dean Clark…

“For the first three years or so driving for National Cab, I was placed in some of the most nastiest cabs you could ever imagine.  And my clothes and everything else would smell like a sweet odor.  And we’re not talking about dirty.  We’re talking about some sort of odor or gas because it would make you light headed.  I would have headaches sometimes for almost seven hours and would have to take Exedrin.  So I started getting worried about that so I went to the doctor (Kaiser).  The doctor there took three different blood tests at three different random times throughout the course of a year or two, and found that I have high carbon monoxide levels.” 

According to Clark, National Cab told him his high carbon monoxide levels were the result of him being a smoker. 

Going back to the accident though, he says he has been diagnosed with post concussion syndrome, three herniated discs, vision issues and others as a result.  He continues to see a neurologist, and still suffers pain from the three herniated discs.

As for airbags, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) does not require taxis to be equipped with airbags, which Clark believes could have dramatically prevented the injuries.  Nor does it require cab companies to carry uninsured motorist coverage in their insurance policies.  But Transportation Code Division II, Article 1100 Section 1106(i) does state…

“Color Scheme Permit Holders shall comply with all applicable state laws and regulations concerning Workers’ Compensation”. (Transportation Code Division II, Article 1100 Section 1106(i))

With regards to state laws and regulations concerning Workers’ Compensation, this following excerpt is from a memorandum put out in 2008 by the former SF Taxi Commission.

"The state judicial system has affirmed that California taxi drivers are employees for purposes of workers' compensation in certain employment situations.  These employment situations have included "gate and gas" drivers.  Local cases making this finding include Tracy v. Yellow Cab Co-Operative, Inc. (San Francisco Superior Court No. 938786) and Yellow Cab Cooperative Inc. V. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (1991) 226 Cal.App.3d 1288.  Another case on point is Santa Cruz Transportation, Inc. v. Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1363."

In the same memorandum, the former taxi commission held that San Francisco cab companies are required by State laws to purchase and maintain workers’ compensation coverage for individual taxi drivers.  This excerpt cited local codes pursuant to California’s laws.

"Municipal Police Code 1147.4 provides:

All persons, firms or corporations holding taxicab color scheme permits pursuant to Section 1125(b) of this Article shall comply with all applicable state statues concerning workers' compensation and any applicable regulations adopted pursuant to those statutes.  Taxicab color scheme permit holders must include a sworn statement attesting to compliance with such applicable statutes and regulations as part of an annual filing required by Section 1095 of this Article.

Rule 5.H.16 requires that "the color scheme holder must have a copy of Certificate of Worker's Compensation Insurance prominently displayed at the place of business so that it is visible to drivers."  This is based on California Labor Code 3350 which requires the same posting.  Notably, Labor Code 3550 administers a civil penalty of up to $7000 for failure to post the certificate.  The Commission also assesses a fine of $75 for the first offense of failure to post a current certificate."  

(SF Taxi Commission memorandum 2008)

“I’m fed up.  You can’t treat people like this”, says Clark.  He says he wants the lawmakers and the public to understand his experience.   “I hope that they gain some perspective of what San Francisco taxi drivers have to go through, and how underrepresented we truly are”, he says.

“Also when it comes to looking for a lawyer, for looking for someone to represent us, we’re just underrepresented across the board.  And things like that need to change.”

Clark has an attorney, and says he expects his case will eventually go to court.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency can fine a cab company for failure to comply with workers' compensation laws $45 per day for each day without insurance.  (Transportation Code Division II, Article 1100 Section 1106(i) Schedule of Fines)




  1. Any attorney worth his salt will get the WC claim going via National's insurance. National would prefer the tax-payers pay for the drivers injuries so their rates stay low.
    UTW would have the names of atty's that can handle it.
    As for the white spots on his brain: They could be caused by dozens of things. Kind of ridiculous to try to blame it on a cab without any scientific evidence at all.

    1. Dear Dr Anonymous,

      There is evidence to suggest that the white spots were indeed a cause of the exposure to toxins while driving a cab. While working as a cab driver I went to doctors and had tests ran. There is even a base line to go from.

      I think you are missing a very important point hear. At National Cab Company if you open a Workers Compensation Claim drivers typically get fired! In addition after the claim was filed harassment for opening the claim began. Several dispatchers were threatening me that if I opened the claim I would be terminated.

      As for the UTW, just need to make sure this point is clear. I was unable to get assistance from the UTW with an attorney even for a Workers Compensation claim. As you may or may not know, Gates and Gas drivers are looked upon as the lowest form of life and many medallion owners and cab company owners figure they can just simply get another driver. Currently even after being terminated from National Cab Company am still experiencing harassment because some in the industry do not feel like I have even been injured by the car accident by the uninsured motorist.

      Thats why I wrote this and started to become more vocal.
      Many in San Francisco want more cabs on the street. The current situation has been greed demonstrated by the current cab companies and medallion owners who take advantage of the gates and gas driver. The current system is not working and if cab companies and medallion owners were smart in the past they would have taken care of their own, instead of taking advantage of the poor working class of gates and gas drivers. The taxi industry should be ashamed of themselves instead of blaming the SFMTA from breaking up the current corrupt system. Taxi Medallion Owners and Taxi Companies for years have been eating their own by not providing safe working conditions, proper safety nets, and an appropriate working environment. This was the seed that was sewn. Its too late for the evil to continue. The SFMTA could clean up some of the corruption and make a more level playing field for all of those involved in the taxi industry! After all the medallions are ultimately owned by the city anyway. Imagine if all of the gates and gas drivers who got screwed by the industry in its current state came out and spoke out to the public! Imagine if all of the people who have been discriminated against by the current drivers in the industry came out to speak, people who just wanted a ride but got kicked out of the cab because they were gay, a woman, or an ethnicity that the driver did not want in their cab! Go ahead and put your ballot measure on, there will be lots of opposition to your measure. This is not a labor issue, it is a greed issue for the taxi companies and medallion owners so they can keep what they got by taking advantage of gates and gas drivers for years to come, and not give the gates and gas drivers anything to protect themselves!

      The cab industry was a very interesting stint in my life, and hope to never see so much corruption ever again.

      You may want to check out some of the claims that have been opened and will continue to fight this matter for years to come. I do understand that most cab drivers will not understand the depth of the fight, but in the long term I hope it helps them and their families if an incident like this happens in the future.

  2. I guess the comment must be from a doctor that the white spots are not from an accident. Maybe it could be from the carbon monoxide leaks?

  3. In my discussion with Dean, he said that despite being a smoker, the MRIs revealing white spots and high levels of carbon monoxide coincided with the time he has been driving a cab.

    Also, I think auto insurance companies pull scams. Dean says the insurance company of the woman who had hit him recently discontinued her policy due to lack of payment. But at the scene of the accident, she presented valid insurance. This is exactly what happened to my girlfriend. she was hit as a pedestrian in a crosswalk and suffered a triple leg fracture. The woman who hit her showed the police a valid insurance. But when we contacted the woman's insurance company, they said the woman's policy had been cancelled just a month before, because of lack of payment. Therefore, they denied the claim, saying they were no longer the woman's insurance carrier. This is what happened to Dean. Consequently, he was forced to file a Workers' Comp claim. But if his statements are true, then National Cab tried to steer him away from a workers' comp claim, and ultimately, did not pay for any expenses.

  4. Months have gone by, I am being treated by doctors. The insurance company did pay most of the bills. However I was told by the adjuster that Dan Hinds should have opened a workers compensation claim within the lawful period. Please tell drivers if they are hurt on the job or in an accident to open the workers compensation claim immediately even if they think the other driver is insured. The insurance company will repay the workers compensation carrier.


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