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Can You Sue for Sexual Assault in an Uber or Lyft?

Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft promote their commitment to passenger safety. Unfortunately, these rideshare companies have been in the news over the past few years for a disturbing reason: many of their passengers, especially women, have been sexually assaulted by their rideshare driver.

Getting into a car with an unknown driver carries risk. But anyone using the Uber or Lyft app should not fear for their safety. These multi-billion-dollar companies should ensure that criminals and other dangerous people do not get permission to drive for them. You deserve a safe driver.

If you were sexually assaulted while using Uber or Lyft, contact Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys today. Our Atlanta sexual assault lawyer can describe in more detail your legal right to sue. Below, we look at some of the most important information about these cases.

Is Sexual Assault a Real Problem for Rideshare Companies?

Yes. In fact, media stories have proliferated over the past few years describing situations where passengers have been assaulted by their Uber or Lyft driver. For example, an Uber driver in San Diego was arrested for sexually assaulting a passenger who fell asleep in the back seat. The driver also had multiple other charges for rape or sexual assault on his criminal history.

To their credit, rideshare companies have come clean with the number of sexual assault allegations involving their platform. Uber has compiled statistics about sexual assaults for the past several years. A report for 2020 identified almost 1,000 sexual assault incidents and 141 rapes. About 81% of the victims were women. By way of comparison, Uber reported 247 rapes for 2019.

Lyft has also released information about alleged sexual assaults involving their platform. Over a three-year period, the company received 4,158 sexual assault reports, covering 2017-2019. Of these assaults, 360 were rape during this three-year period.

Sexual assault includes anything from forced kissing to groping and rape. Sexually harassing language might also qualify if the driver locked you in the car and wouldn’t let you out or tried to drive you to a location without your consent.

Can You Sue for a Sexual Assault?

Yes. Any unwanted touching is a tort, which gives rise to civil liability. You can sue for your medical bills, emotional distress, embarrassment, pain, mental anguish, and lost income. You can also sue for false imprisonment when someone abducts you.

The driver who assaulted you bears obvious liability for their actions. You should call the police and report them for the assault. However, this driver might not have many financial resources to pay a settlement—which is the point of a civil lawsuit for sexual assault. If they had a lot of money in the bank, they probably wouldn’t be driving Uber, so the odds are high they don’t have many resources. For that reason, we always check whether the rideshare company itself has liability. Uber or Lyft might be on the hook for their driver’s actions.

When Is the Rideshare Company Liable?

In some situations, you might also be able to sue the rideshare company for letting a dangerous person work for them. That means you have a better chance of obtaining compensation, since Uber, Lyft and similar companies have business liability coverage.

At the outset, we should say that you aren’t 100% entitled to compensation because you were assaulted by one of these drivers. Legally, Uber and Lyft are not automatically on the hook when one of their drivers assaults someone. These drivers are independent contractors.

However, these companies might have liability if any of the following apply:

  • The rideshare company failed to perform a background check on the driver.
  • Other customers have complained about the driver and the rideshare company never investigated or took any other action to protect riders.
  • The rideshare company knew about the driver’s criminal history for assault but still let him drive anyway.
  • The rideshare company has no process in place for investigating complaints about drivers or performing background checks.

In these situations, the company has been negligent, and it is foreseeable that one of their drivers could sexually assault a passenger. We might add them as a defendant to any lawsuit and try to negotiate a settlement with them.

A History of Negligence

You might be surprised at how lax these companies have been over the years. As recently as 2017, Uber did not have a uniform policy for running regular background checks on their drivers. They would perform one check before giving the person permission to drive, but they didn’t have a way of catching violations after that. Under the old system, someone could have a clean criminal history when they signed up to drive on the platform. But then they might have a rape conviction, which the company couldn’t find because they weren’t looking.

Uber has improved security. For example, it has implemented continuous background checks that are always looking for new criminal offenses. Consequently, they have booted 80,000 drivers from the platform.

Likewise, Lyft has improved its background checks. The company also created a way to call 911 using the app, which can help someone in immediate distress.

We welcome the increase in background checks, as well as other safety features. But riders are still not safe. If you were sexually assaulted by your driver, please contact our law firm.

What to do After an Assault

We strongly recommend immediately informing the rideshare company. Call or submit a complaint, but get this dangerous driver off the road. Someone who assaults one person is highly likely to do it again.

You should also try to document the assault as well as you can. Calling the police immediately creates a record. If you were raped, you should go to the hospital for treatment and evidence collection.

Also call our law firm. Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys is committed to protecting the rights of sexual assault victims. We can discuss next steps and help you access necessary resources as a sex assault survivor. Call us today at (404) 689-0817 to talk with an experienced attorney.

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