Uber or Lyft lawsuits for sexual assaults committed by their drivers are personal injury claims against the ride-sharing company. They seek compensation for a victim’s injuries. The lawsuits claim that the ride sharing company should be accountable for its driver’s conduct. The lawsuits often rely on negligent hiring as the reason to hold the company liable. They demand compensation for the victim’s:
They also usually demand punitive damages to punish the ride sharing company.
In this article, our personal injury lawyers explain:
- 1. Assaults and sexual assaults by Uber or Lyft drivers
- 2. Hiring practices by ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft
- 3. Negligent hiring claims against Uber or Lyft for assaults by their drivers
- 4. Compensation available in a sexual assault lawsuit against Uber or Lyft
1. Assaults and sexual assaults by Uber or Lyft drivers
Numerous people who have taken Uber and Lyft rides have reported suffering sexual batteries and rape at the hands of their drivers.1 Others have involved assault, false imprisonment, or attempted kidnapping.2
The problem is a serious one. People who use ride sharing are at the mercy of their drivers. During their ride, passengers can do very little to protect themselves.
This is especially true of female passengers who use ride sharing to get home after a night of partying. Their intoxication makes them less able to defend themselves. Worse, they are often alone. They can easily be taken advantage of by their ride sharing driver. Impaired passengers also often fall asleep in the car. They often struggle to get from the car into their home. This gives Uber or Lyft drivers an opportunity to take advantage of them and commit a sexual assault.
Nevertheless, Uber and Lyft market themselves as a safe alternative to drunk driving. They are promoting ride sharing to this vulnerable group of people. It puts drivers in a position of power and gives them an opportunity to commit a sexual assault.
The problem is made worse by the weak hiring policies that ride sharing companies use.
2. Hiring practices by ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft
The hiring practices that Uber and Lyft for their drivers is far less strict than other transit services.
Uber, Lyft, and other ride sharing companies have to comply with state law when it hires drivers. In California, they can only hire drivers who:
- Have had a valid driver’s license for at least a year,
- Carry adequate car insurance,
- Have a valid car registration for a vehicle with at least 4 doors,
- Pass an annual criminal background check, and
- Get a 19-point vehicle inspection every year or every 50,000 miles.
The background check, however, has proven to be a point of weakness for ride sharing companies. They use third-party background checks by companies like:
- Checkr, or
- Sterling Talent Solutions.
These third-party background checks are less reliable than FBI checks that use fingerprints and the Live Scan system. Taxi companies use these fingerprint-based background checks. However, ride sharing companies continue to use third-party checking because:
- They only take a couple of days to complete, and
- They are less expensive.
For example, Uber settled a lawsuit claiming that it had failed to screen out 25 drivers with serious criminal backgrounds.3 Some of those drivers had prior convictions for kidnapping or murder. Uber paid $25 million to settle the case, ending it in 2016. In 2018, though, a CNN report found thousands of convicted felons still driving for Uber.4
Certain criminal offenses are supposed to make someone ineligible to driver for Uber or Lyft. In California, any felony offense disqualifies potential ridesharing drivers, as does:
- Being registered on the national sex offender registry,
- A domestic violence conviction in the past 7 years,
- A misdemeanor conviction for assault or battery in the past 7 years, and
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the past 7 years.5
Other states are more explicit in what crimes make a driver ineligible.
California law requires drivers provide a new criminal background check every year.6 If a driver gets convicted of a crime after they start driving a ridesharing vehicle, they are supposed to notify Uber or Lyft under the company’s policies. If they do not voluntarily notify their ride sharing company, though, they are rarely caught and punished. They could continue to drive for several years after the conviction before facing problems.
3. Negligent hiring claims against Uber or Lyft for assaults by their drivers
If Uber or Lyft fails to screen out drivers who foreseeably put passengers at risk, they could be held liable for your injuries. You can recover compensation for your injuries in a negligent hiring supervision and retention lawsuit.
In California, these lawsuits have to show that:
- The driver was unfit to safely transport passengers or posed a threat to them,
- The ridesharing company should have known about the danger,
- The driver’s unfitness hurt the victim, and
- The ridesharing company’s hiring decision was a substantial factor in causing the injuries.7
Companies can be held liable for negligently hiring employees and independent contractors.8 Negligent hiring claims argue that the employer should be liable because they created a particular risk or hazard by making the hire.9 These lawsuits can seek compensation for injuries, even if they were intentionally inflicted.10 Those injuries do, however, have to have a causal nexus from the worker’s job.11
To protect passengers, ridesharing companies have to conduct background checks of its drivers because of the foreseeability of a driver sexually assaulting a passenger.12
Negligent hiring lawsuits against Uber or Lyft claim that the injuries you suffered could have been foreseen when the driver was hired.13 When it comes to sexual assaults committed by ride sharing drivers, the most important factor is whether Uber or Lyft should have foreseen the danger.14
Negligent hiring lawsuits do not seek to hold Uber or Lyft directly liable. Employers are rarely held vicariously liable for the crimes of their employees.15 Uber and Lyft would also fight these claims. They would say their drivers are not employees. They would claim their drivers are independent contractors.
4. Compensation available in a sexual assault lawsuit against Uber or Lyft
A negligent hiring lawsuit against Uber or Lyft for an assault committed by their driver can recover compensation for your:
- Medical bills, both those you have already paid and those you are likely to pay in the future,
- Wages lost during your recovery,
- Reduced ability to earn a living, if you suffered long-term injuries,
- Physical pain,
- Mental suffering and anguish, and
- Loss of companionship suffered by your family.
You can also pursue punitive damages. These are meant to punish Uber or Lyft for their culpable conduct. They can make the company pay extra for putting you in harm’s way.
Call us for help…
You can recover compensation for your injuries and hold Uber or Lyft accountable by filing a lawsuit. Our attorneys have had great success bringing lawsuits on behalf of sexual assault victims. Contact us today to get started on your case.
- See Cara Kelly and Tricia Nadolny, “Rape, assault allegations mount against Lyft in what new suit calls ‘sexual predator crisis,’” USA Today (September 4, 2019).
- See Marco della Cava, “‘I started pounding on the windows’ — Uber passenger says Denver driver wouldn’t let her go,” USA Today (April 17, 2018).
- Douglas MacMillan, “Uber Settles With California Regulators for Up to $25 Million,” The Wall Street Journal (April 7, 2016).
- Curt Devine, Nelli Black, Drew Griffin, and Collette Richards, “Thousands of criminals were cleared to be Uber drivers. Here’s how rideshare companies fought stronger checks,” CNN (June 1, 2018).
- California Public Utility Code § 5445.2.
- California Public Utility Code § 5445.2.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 426.
- See Noble v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 109 Cal.Rptr. 269 (Cal. App. 1973).
- Phillips v. TLC Plumbing, Inc., 91 Cal.Rptr.3d 864 (Cal. App. 2009).
- Montague v. AMN Healthcare, Inc., 168 Cal.Rptr.3d 123 (Cal. App. 2014).
- Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, 907 P.2d 358 (Cal. 1995).
- California Public Utility Code § 5445.2.
- See Flores v. AutoZone West, Inc., 74 Cal.Rptr.3d 178 (Cal. App. 2008).
- Bailey v. Filco, Inc., 56 Cal.Rptr.2d 333 (Cal. App. 1996).
- See Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, Supra.