Will I Be Raped in an Uber?
Probably not but we don't think they are as safe as they should be. Many of our colleagues feel it is unsafe to ride in an Uber. They constantly wonder if they risk being sexually assaulted in a Lyft or Uber. Guys don’t worry as much as female passengers but the fears are well placed.
Ridesharing has taken the world by storm. Services like Lyft and Uber reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. They also offer a huge convenience for travelers and commuters. There is a dark side to these ridesharing companies, however. Rape, sexual assault and kidnapping.
Lest you think these are isolated incidents, earlier this year Uber issued its first report card. And its horrible. Nearly 6000 reported sexual assault claims in the last two years. Considering many assaults go unreported the numbers are terrifying.
Who is responsible? It’s not just the drivers. We believe the companies are equally responsible. Companies such as Uber and Lyft have a duty to properly screen their drivers and an ongoing responsibility to supervise their drivers.
What does Uber say? Tony west, Uber’s chief legal officer, said “At the scale that Uber operates, we're going to see both the good and the bad that happens in society because we're operating so many trips every single day."
Uber’s definition of assault doesn’t even include drivers who masturbate in front of passengers or who demand sex from passengers.
Lyft claims it is more socially responsible than Uber but it has not published its sexual assault statistics. We know, however, that they are facing many reported sexual assault and harassment claims.
Installing cameras in cars would likely prevent some assaults but privacy laws vary greatly by jurisdiction and the cost would be prohibitive for many part time drivers making ease of accessibility an issue.
A promising method of preventing assaults is monitoring of rides when the driver deviates from the route or turns off the app before the passenger’s destination is reached. The apps could also be programmed to check on passengers after their ride has ended.
Lyft Sued in California Over ‘Thousands’ of Sexual Assaults
A lawsuit filed earlier this month in San Francisco says Lyft has known since 2015 that “Lyft drivers were sexually assaulting and raping female customers.” The suit claims “thousands of women have been assaulted in Lyft vehicles.”
And was Lyft’s response to these assaults? Not much. Many women say the company’s response has been appalling. They say that even after drivers have complaints of rape and sexual assault, Lyft allows them to continue to drive.
The lawsuit says that Lyft does not properly respond when riders complain of being assaulted:
“Even if Lyft does respond to a woman who reported a rape, sexual harassment or sexual assault, the response, largely, follows the same script focusing on vague rhetoric about safety being a top priority. Lyft more often than not does not tell the victim what steps Lyft conducts in an investigation, does not tell the victim if there have been other allegations against the same driver and does not tell the victim whether the driver has been removed from the platform… On information and belief, Lyft’s ‘investigations’ into reports of rape and sexual assault amount to nothing more than following up with the rider and the driver and checking to see if the driver has any previous complaints…”
Lyft’s investigations and reports by victims are apparently not even shared with law enforcement.
In one specific complaint, a woman we will call “Jane Doe” says on September 25th of 2019 she was drinking with a friend in Los Angeles. When she became intoxicated, her friend summoned a Lyft for her using Lyft’s app.
Jane passed out in the back seat. At one point she woke up in her neighborhood and heard the driver telling her she was cute. She rebuffed his advances and told the driver she was married. When she woke up again and the driver was on top of her.
After shouting at him to “Get Off!”, the Lyft driver got back in the front seat and sped off. She woke up again when the driver was pulled over by police and arrested.
Luckily for her, Jane’s husband saw the Lyft pull up to their home. When he went outside, he saw the driver on top of his wife. As he approached, the driver jumped back into the front seat and sped off.
The husband called police. Jane and her husband say that Lyft wouldn’t even tell the police the location of the vehicle. Luckily police found the car and rescued Jane before further harm could take place.
In its promotional materials Lyft says it offers “a platform committed to providing safe transportation, we hold ourselves to a higher standard by designing products and policies to keep out bad actors, make riders and drivers feel safe and react quickly if and when an incident does occur.”
Tell that to Jane and her husband. Lyft claims it is committed to the safety of its passengers but read any of the many lawsuits and that commitment appears hollow.
Screening for Lyft and Uber Drivers
In most instances, all that it takes to become a network transportation driver is completion of an online application and a copy of a license and insurance policy. There is usually no face to face interview or even a Skype interview. There is also no fingerprinting and background checks are iffy at best.
Both Uber and Lyft have a high turnover. As a result, we believe it is even more important for these companies to provide robust security checks, harassment training, better supervision and a zero tolerance policy for misconduct by drivers.
Can I Sue Uber for a Sexual Assault?
There are many things that Uber and Lyft can do to make their platform safe for riders. We discussed several of those ideas earlier in this post. For the unfortunate thousands of riders who have been assaulted, the real question is, “Can I sue Uber (Lyft) for an assault by a driver”?
We say yes. Both companies and several other similar network transportation companies claim they are a merely the provider of technology and that the drivers are independent contractors. That argument has its limitations, however.
Several states have or are considering legislation making drivers employees. (California and New Jersey are two examples.) But even assuming the drivers are independent contractors, Uber and Lyft wield a substantial amount of control over the drivers. And because of that control, they can often be held liable.
The implications of that statement are important. The police can arrest drivers who commit criminal acts. Seeing these rapists head to prison may bring some closure but justice doesn’t end there. And unless you are very, very lucky, suing the Lyft driver that assaulted you probably gets you an uncollectible judgment.
Some readers are probably thinking they can collect from the driver’s auto insurance. That likely doesn’t work either since automobile liability policies typically exclude intentional acts. Rape and sexual assault are certainly intentional acts.
That leaves passengers who were assaulted with one viable option. Suing Lyft or Uber under the theory that they are responsible for screening, supervising and monitoring their drivers.
Suing a rideshare company isn’t easy and that’s where having the right lawyer can make the difference between success and walking away empty handed.
I Was Assaulted in an Uber, What Should I Do?
Millions of people use Lyft or Uber each day. We hire these companies to give a safe ride to our destination. There is no excuse for sexual assault or rape by a rideshare driver. If you were the victim of sexual assault or criminal sexual contact in a vehicle being operated by an Uber or Lyft driver, you may be entitled to compensation.
Our lawyers and national network have decades of experience. Experience that we will use to fight for your rights. You are not alone.
If you are assaulted in a rideshare vehicle or by an Uber driver, call police immediately. Get whatever treatment or help you need. And then call us.
To learn more, contact attorney Brian Mahany* directly online, by email at [hidden email] or by phone at 877-858-8018. All inquiries are kept strictly confidential. You will speak with a lawyer, not a call center or marketing company.
Mahany Law and its network partners handle cases nationwide. Cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis meaning you do not owe anything for legal fees unless we win and collect.
*Brian Mahany is a former director of the nonprofit Family Violence Project and volunteer at the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center.