Rideshare Users Face Challenges when Reporting Sexual Assault
Imagine that you’re working for the gig economy as a rideshare driver to make ends meet. You already have a full-time job, but your student loan debt takes most of your paycheck, putting you in a position where you need an additional source of income to keep yourself afloat. Taking people where they need to go in the evening and on weekends is just what you need to do to maintain a roof over your head in the city where you live.
This is the life of many hard-working people who choose ridesharing as a viable source of income. Uber and Lyft aren’t technically employers; however, approximately 80,000 people use their platforms (along with those of Gett/Juno and Via) (1). Some Uber and Lyft drivers work full time, and many work for both companies. Lyft and Uber, which are legally considered “transportation network companies” or TNCs, operate very differently from taxis. Due to the lack of regulations and protections for users, the rideshare economy is a WIld Wild West where harassment and assault against drivers and passengers run rampant.
A Growing Number of Lyft Riders Sue for Sexual Assault
Law firms across the country are receiving dozens of calls from alleged assault, kidnapping, and rape victims of rideshare drivers. Lyft in particular faced a lawsuit from 14 women in August 2019 who claimed that the ridingsharing company mishandled their sexual assault, misconduct, and rape complaints against drivers that occurred while using Lyft’s service. Since then, more women have merged lawsuits. Today, 34 plaintiffs have joined forces against Lyft in California.
The extensive lawsuit, filed in San Francisco, claims that Lyft enabled a “sexual predator crisis,” alleging the company had known about the rampant sexual abuse passengers experienced at the hands of their drivers for years and did nothing to address it. The women suing the company aim to change its fundamental approach to safety. Civil lawsuits against Lyft seek damages and demand that Lyft fortify its methods of screening and monitoring drivers.
Victims urge Lyft to implement fingerprint-based criminal background checks, require the installation of video/audio equipment inside vehicles to record rides, and add an option for women to request female drivers. Lyft has responded to these demands by adding new safety features.
Lyft Requires Drivers to Partake in Sexual Violence Prevention Training
Responding to these lawsuits has led to the implementation of new safety measures. Lyft has added an emergency call button on its app that will call 911, and a “smart trip check in” feature that will sense when a trip has unexpected delays. The “check in” feature requires the app to contact other drivers for support if a trip takes longer than it should.
The company has also promised to unmatch drivers and passengers when passengers rate them at 3 or fewer stars. As of October 2019, all drivers must participate in a Community Safety Education program Lyft has developed in partnership with RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States.
Plaintiffs Feel Lyft Isn’t Doing Enough to Protect Passengers
Some plaintiffs don’t believe these measures go far enough to protect passengers. Alison Turkos, one of the victims named in the lawsuit, experienced a particularly horrific incident that she claims would not have been helped by these features.
In 2017, Turkos hailed a Lyft in Brooklyn to take her home from a late-night birthday party. The ride should have taken 15 minutes and should not have cost more than $20. Yet, the morning after, Turkos opened the app and found a charge of $106.80 for a 79-minute ride. The app showed her being driven around Manhattan and through the Holland Tunnel to an isolated park in New Jersey before reaching her apartment at 4 am.
She reported the incident to Lyft but got only generic responses. Afterward, she didn’t feel well physically and showed signs of being raped. After a few months, the results of a rape kit tested positive. The rape kit revealed the DNA of 2 men on her clothing. A police reenactment helped her realize the driver had held her at gunpoint and raped her along with other men. Ultimately, the NYPD transferred her case to the FBI.
Eventually, Turkos filed a sexual assault complaint against Lyft in San Francisco Superior Court. Still, the driver who picked her up that night remained on the app under a new name and profile, and she was never notified when he was removed. (2)
Drivers Insist Lyft is Doing Less to Protect Them from Assault
On the other side of the aisle is the driver tasked with transporting people to and from various locations. Driving people around turns out to be a high-risk job. Taxi drivers are 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers, according to a report by OSHA. Women drivers for Lyft and Uber face higher instances of harassment and assault than the general population.
Many drivers who have reported harassment and assault to Lyft claim their reports have not been taken seriously, and that they have experienced trauma from the process of reporting these incidents. In one case, a middle-aged male driver picked up a younger man in downtown Los Angeles. The passenger pulled out brass knuckles and threatened the driver before demanding his iPhone and debit card, and then ordering him on a detour. The passenger demanded the driver exit the vehicle, which he did. The passenger then took away the driver’s glasses, searched him for cash, and pushed him over a guard rail. The driver fell approximately 30 feet before a resident in the area helped him call an ambulance.
The middle-aged man, having suffered a twisted ankle and leg, was stunned to find that Lyft deactivated his account. After explaining the assault, the representative apologized for the deactivation of his account. Lyft claimed it would investigate the assault and promised to never pair the driver with the same passenger. After a few days, the driver’s account was reactivated. After many apologies, Lyft did not help the man pay for his medical expenses, stolen property, the $1,270 he lost in cash, or anything else he suffered from the assault. (3)
Rideshare Companies Fighting Against Worker Protections
Drivers are aware that Lyft riders are not required to use their legal names and never undergo background checks the way they do. Riders can use prepaid debit cards and order rides for others. There is almost no screening to protect drivers from a bad passenger.
Lyft has argued against providing security features for drivers because, as contractors rather than employees, they claim that drivers control their own working conditions. Drivers get to choose where and when they drive and use their personal vehicles to generate income. Ultimately, it will take regulation to ensure the safety of riders and passengers. When NYC required cab companies to warn drivers that assaulting a taxi driver is a felony offense, the number of assaults plummeted. Gig workers have no such protections. To make matters worse, rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber are aggressively fighting efforts that could drastically improve conditions for their drivers. (4)
Fight Assault with Legal Action. Turn to Orlando’s Dependable Civil Lawyers
Assault and rape may be tried in criminal and civil court. Victims of assault and rape in a Lyft or Uber can turn to compassionate personal injury lawyers to help them seek redress. The burden of proof is much higher in criminal court than in civil court, which is why victims may seek justice through a civil suit if the criminal court never convicts their assailants.
At The Umansky Law Firm, our team of experienced lawyers has more than 100 years of combined experience standing up for victims of sexual assault. Our firm has been recognized as part of the Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trends and has an average 5-star rating. Contact us for a free consultation.