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Delivery Cyclists Injured on NYC’s Mean Streets Face Uphill Compensation Battle

Some companies don’t provide insurance coverage for workers, while others keep it a well-guarded secret — leaving hurt deliveristas in the lurch.

September 21, 2022 Claudia Irizarry Aponte, THE CITY
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Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY

Jose Valentín Díaz was on his e-bike down the 31st Street bike lane in Queens in May 2021, DoorDash order in tow, when a car crashed into him, knocking him on his head and left side. The driver then fled the scene.

Valentín Díaz, then 47, briefly lost consciousness from the crash. Yet despite the “unbearable” pain, his thoughts went back to his work even as the paramedics hustled him to Elmhurst Hospital: “I kept telling the paramedic, ‘How is the food? I have to get back to my bike. I can’t miss the delivery.”

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The following day, when he was eventually able to tell a representative for the app why the order was never delivered, he said no one from DoorDash called to ask if he was OK or offered to help — nor did they inform him that he was entitled to seek a claim through the company’s occupational accident policy.

Valentín Díaz only learned about the policy through fellow delivery workers months later, and an insurance company compensated him for his medical bills — covering care that included surgery on his left clavicle — and a portion of his lost wages.

DoorDash did not comment on Valentían Díaz’s account.

Often, delivery workers find that whatever help they are entitled to depends on the app they are using, what stage of the delivery process they’re in, and their mode of transportation of choice. The lopsided options frustrate workers in a high-risk industry where 49% of workers surveyed by researchers at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations along with the Workers Justice Project last year reported being in an accident or crash, and another 30% said they’d been the victim of assault on the job.

As independent contractors, app-based workers are not protected by federal workplace safety standards broadly enjoyed by most workers.

“It’s very difficult being a breadwinner and suddenly become unable to work,” said Ernesta Galvez, who has been unable to work for the last three weeks after a driver crashed into her mid-delivery on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 40th Street in Manhattan on Aug. 23.

Since her accident, she has depleted her small savings supporting her two teenage daughters and young son. She is contemplating returning to work despite her doctor’s recommendations, she said.

Deliverista José Valentín Díaz was injured in May 2021 while working for DoorDash.
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of José Valentín Díaz

Insured? Maybe

DoorDash asserts it did send Valentín Díaz an email on the day of the accident informing him of the company’s third-party occupational insurance policy.

A company spokesperson shared text of an email they claimed to have sent to Valentin Diaz, which is written in English, a language he doesn’t speak and is unable to read.

“Thanks for letting us know about your accident, we’re sorry to hear that happened,” the email read.

“If you sustained injuries while on an active delivery, you may be eligible for personal injury coverage.”

We care deeply about the safety of New York Dashers, and we’re constantly working to make dashing even safer,” DoorDash spokesperson Eli Scheinholtz wrote to THE CITY. “Every week, Dashers complete millions of deliveries and the overwhelming majority — more than 99.9% — are completed without any safety-related incident at all.

“While negative incidents are extremely rare, DoorDash is there to support Dashers when things go wrong. Each and every US Dasher is covered by insurance at no cost to them and with no opt-in required if they are injured while on an active dash. It does not matter whether a Dasher is driving a car, riding a bike or on foot — if a Dasher is making an active delivery with DoorDash they are covered.”

The major app companies have vastly different definitions of coverage for workers in case of emergency — if they offer any insurance at all.

Grubhub and Relay, two major players in the industry, are among those that do not carry occupational or auto coverage, according to legal advocates, leaving workers uncovered — except in California, where some insurance is required by law.

Grubhub’s Driver Support website offers a three-sentence answer, updated a month ago, for what to do “if there’s an emergency (For example: I got into an accident)?”

“Your safety is of the utmost importance to us at Grubhub. If you’re injured or anyone’s immediate safety is threatened, please reach out to your local emergency services,” the page reads. “If everyone is safe and well but you can’t fulfill an order, please select Help, and then Current deliveries from the menu within the Grubhub for Drivers app.”

In response to questions from THE CITY, Grubhub spokesperson Liz Dee said in a written statement: “The safety of our drivers and couriers is always a top priority, and we continue to work with New York City as well as state and local governments across the country to implement measures that support drivers and communities.”

Meanwhile, UberEats only offers auto liability coverage, which applies to workers delivering in their cars. A worker injured while toiling on a moped, e-bike, or bicycle is excluded from the company’s auto liability insurance plan, said company spokesperson Josh Gold.

“We supported state legislation that would’ve given delivery workers the same worker’s compensation, medical, prescription, dental, vision, and death benefits that Uber drivers throughout NY have,” Gold said in a statement.

DoorDash says it offers up to $250,000 in third-party liability insurance for workers who suffer injuries during an “active delivery,” or the window of time between picking up and delivering an order, regardless of the worker’s mode of transportation, said Scheinholtz.

“It covers everybody,” he said.

But workers who spoke with THE CITY say that aid — and compassion — from the company is hard to come by.

DoorDash, through Blue Star Claims, one of its insurers, paid for Valentín Díaz’s medical bills and provided partial wages for three weeks after the accident, which required surgery on his left clavicle. That was only after he enlisted the help of Eric Malinowski, a personal injury attorney with Camacho Mauro Mulholland LLP, which has represented several delivery workers in their insurance claims.

But Valentín Díaz said he spent “days” after his accident calling DoorDash’s driver helpline “pleading with the operators to take pity on me” and not lock him out from his future ability to work, due to inactivity.

“They kept saying they had no responsibility for me,” he said in Spanish. “Meanwhile, I’ve always done my part. Rain, sleet or snow — I always showed up to work and gave my best for this company. It strikes me as very unfair.”

He is currently embroiled in an arbitration challenge with the company and another insurer, Voyager Indemnity Insurance Policy, demanding compensation for his rehabilitation care.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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