For the year of 2018 alone, Uber drivers made 3,045 reports of sexual assaults in the United States. On December 5, 2019, the New York Times published an article about the recent safety report done by Uber Technologies. It is important to be informed about the statistics of ride-share assaults, tips on how to protect yourself when using ride-shares, and ride-share companies’ potential liability for sexual assault.
If you have already been a victim of sexual assault contacting an attorney who specializes in sexual abuse can help you discover your legal options. At the Gomez Firm you can schedule a free confidential consultation 24/7 or give us a call at 619-237-3490
Since the launch of rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft, claims of sexual assault and harassment have unfortunately become rampant. A CNN investigation last year found more than a dozen cases of Lyft drivers being accused of sexual assault and abuse across the country, and more than a hundred cases for Uber drivers. Further statistics include:
It wasn’t until recently that Uber and Lyft updated their protocols to include re-running driver background checks on an annual basis, and even monitoring new criminal offenses via public records or pending charges. This monitoring will allow the companies to ban drivers immediately, instead of having to wait months to learn about the criminal charges through annual checks.
Additionally, both companies have started using “enhanced identity verification,” which Uber calls “Real-Time ID Check.” Real-time ID Check prompts drivers to snap a selfie for the company, to ensure the individual is indeed the correct, vetted driver. If a selfie doesn’t match – through a Cognitive Recognition program – the account is temporarily blocked and the company will look into the discrepancy.
While these are steps in the right direction for protecting riders, the issue of sexual abuse still looms and more reports of misconduct come forward every day, with no signs of slowing down.
Uber has a Special Investigations Unit to handle the worst incidents that are reported to Uber. However, the unit is known for putting the company ahead of passenger safety, according to current and former investigators. For example, routing allegations to the police or recommending legal counsel to victims is also not allowed at the SIU. Asking drivers directly about claims against them is also discouraged. Lilli Flores, a former investigator for Uber, stated “Investigators are there first to protect Uber; and then next to protect the customer.” Flores also stated that roughly one third of the SIU cases were related to sexual misconduct.
Uber and Lyft, self-described “technology platform” between riders and drivers, may try to limit their possible liability by considering their drivers as independent contractors, not employees. This means that the rideshare companies cannot be held liable for their drivers’ individual actions. However, the rideshare companies can be held liable if the companies themselves showed negligence which led to the victim’s suffering. If there is a failure to conduct a proper background check, or the results of the background check are ignored, then the company can be found liable. For example, if Uber or Lyft negligently hired a driver who has past complaint of sexual harassment, the company can be found responsible for the victim’s harm. It is ultimately up to the company to screen and check all their drivers, not just when they are first hired, but also throughout their business relationship, even if the drivers are not considered “employees.” Further, new law in California may result in Uber and Lyft drivers being considered employees.
Uber has a three-strike rule but doesn’t always adhere to it, allowing executive override. In one case in New York, a three-strike driver was allowed to keep working until his fourth incident, when he was accused of raping his passenger. In another case in Tennessee, a driver was accused of sexual battery, briefly suspended, and then one month later was accused again. The driver was charged with sexual battery and indecent exposure. In San Diego, a woman passed out and woke up to her Uber driver raping her. After his arrest it was discovered that he had recordings of himself raping and abusing many other women. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison with more than 30 counts against him, including the sexual assault of at least nine women. These instances are just a handful of the many allegations made against Uber and Lyft drivers, yet drivers across the country have attested that up until recently, sexual harassment training was not mandatory.
As the New York Times reported, prior to 2018, both Uber and Lyft had a ‘mandatory arbitration’ section in their terms of service. Mandatory arbitration requires the parties to resolve disputes before an arbitrator instead of the court system, using the confidentiality aspect to essentially shield companies like Uber and Lyft from the bad publicity that could come from these cases. Further, the confidentiality requirement of arbitration allows bad behavior to continue without warning to future victims.
Luckily, in May 2018, Uber finally decided to take out the clause in their terms of service that required arbitration for cases of sexual assault or harassment. Speaking on the change, Uber’s Chief Legal Officer stated that Uber “will no longer require mandatory arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment by Uber riders, drivers or employees,” allowing victims to pursue justice in the “venue they prefer.” He continued, stating that “Uber will [now] not require confidentiality provisions or non-disclosure agreements” that previously prevented survivors from opening up about their experiences. With these changes, victims can now pursue their cases openly through the court system, however they are still unable to take on Uber in a class action suit, since the removal of the arbitration requirement applies only to individual claims.
Shortly after Uber’s decision, Lyft announced that they too would remove the arbitration clause from their terms of service.
If you are injured or suffered harm while in an Uber or Lyft, there are legal actions that can be taken to compensate you and seek justice.
Liability Insurance – which provides the insured party with protection against claims resulting from injuries and damage to people and property – is mandatory in all states. Both Uber and Lyft generally have insurance policies valued to one million dollars.
If you are injured but your driver is not at fault, Uber and Lyft both also have Uninsured/ Underinsured (“UIM”) coverage. This means that if the at-fault driver does not have adequate insurance to cover the damages, the UIM coverage kicks in.
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