Uber has long advertised its services as a safe and reliable alternative to other common carriers like taxis and public transportation. However, a series of Uber driver sexual assault lawsuits has revealed the rideshare company’s failure to guarantee passenger safety and the extent to which it delayed necessary reforms.
In October 2023, a federal panel consolidated the rideshare sexual abuse claims for pretrial proceedings in a multidistrict litigation, located in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The federal court recently appointed a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC), which is tasked with overseeing plaintiffs’ collective strategy throughout pretrial proceedings.
Judge Charles R. Breyer approved the applications of three attorneys for co-lead counsel and selected eight others to assume important roles within the PSC. With the number of claims expected to increase exponentially in coming months, the new leadership structure will provide a firm foundation for the enrollment of new plaintiffs and eventual settlement negotiations.
The Structure and Responsibilities of Uber Sexual Assault Lawsuit Plaintiffs’ Leadership
Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a federal procedure that involves the consolidation of similar cases for pretrial proceedings. They are designed to ensure the efficient and effective resolution of mass tort claims. Consequently, in multidistrict litigation which includes hundreds or potentially thousands of litigants, courts typically establish a leadership structure to oversee plaintiffs’ actions, communications, and filings.
Appointees are chosen from the pool of attorneys representing clients in the multidistrict litigation and must submit applications for court approval. Judge Charles R. Breyer, who presides over the Uber sexual assault MDL, finalized the PSC on December 6, 2023.
Co-Lead Counsel and Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel
Rachel B. Abrams, Sarah R. London, and Roopal P. Luhana were selected to serve as co-lead counsel in the Uber sexual assault lawsuit MDL. They will act as the effective directors of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and assume various responsibilities to streamline legal proceedings.
In his pretrial order approving the committee, Judge Breyer explicitly outlines the co-lead counsel’s obligations, including:
- Determining the position of plaintiffs in matters pertaining to the MDL
- Coordinating and scheduling for the discovery process
- Collaborating with the defense for critical motions and filings
- Delegating responsibilities within the PSC
- Conducting pretrial settlement negotiations
One of the co-lead counsel, Sarah R. London, was also selected to serve as Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel. The position requires London to determine the PSC’s tasks, sign and file “all pleadings that relate to all actions”, and maintain transcripts and minutes of meetings. Pursuant to court orders, London must also appear before the court in routine status conferences to apprise Judge Breyer of the plaintiffs’ collective position.
Tasks of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in Uber Sexual Assault Lawsuits
The Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee is chiefly tasked with the efficient and effective coordination of plaintiffs’ activities throughout pretrial proceedings. In effect, the leadership structure will file motions, speak, and advocate on behalf of the plaintiffs.
In contrast to class action lawsuits, plaintiffs in multidistrict litigation reserve the right to retain their independent counsel. Nevertheless, the PSC is endowed with the authority to direct the collective actions of the prosecution.
It is important that appointees retain the confidence of the plaintiffs and their counsel, without which the PSC and the court may remove or add members at will. The recent appointments are valid for one year, at the end of which members may seek to renew their position.
Judge Requests the Speedy Filing of Additional Claims
Several law firms participating in the Uber driver sexual assault MDL have signaled that they are investigating hundreds of additional claims. In an effort to hasten the proceedings, Judge Breyer requests in his recent ruling that any prospective plaintiffs be enrolled as quickly as possible.
One way in which to streamline MDL enrollments is through the promulgation of long-form complaints, which contain a universal factual record and list of common charges. The documents typically serve as the basis for subsequent short-form complaints, which plaintiffs can submit to participate directly in the MDL.
The court is poised to discuss long-form complaints in a case management conference in early January.
Liability in Uber Driver Sexual Assault Lawsuits
The ongoing Uber sexual assault lawsuits are civil in nature, and target the rideshare company for its routine failure to guarantee the safety of passengers while advertising the security of its services. Plaintiffs assert that Uber owed them a duty of care which it subsequently breached, exposing them to serious attacks and directly causing their injuries.
In recent years, Uber has sought to distance itself from the crimes committed by its drivers by referencing their designation as independent contractors (ICs). However, it has failed to deny third-party liability in the context of sexual assault before both state and federal courts, which has resulted in various charges, including:
- General negligence
- Common carrier negligence
- Negligent misrepresentation
- Vicarious liability
Uber Failed to Guarantee Passenger Safety
Plaintiffs cite a litany of security failures that enabled Uber drivers to perpetrate horrific sexual assaults against vulnerable passengers. One of the most common addresses the inadequate screening of applicants, which Uber outsourced to a third party.
Uber applicants rarely attended in-person, phone, or digital interviews, and the rideshare company failed to conduct thorough background checks to determine criminal history. In addition, the Uber application process did not involve biometric scanning to verify the identity of applicants, which increased the risk of fraud.
Despite the heightened risk of predatory actors becoming independent contractors, Uber still had the right to implement robust in-car safety measures to guarantee passenger safety. For example, the company could have required the installation of cameras and other recording devices to deter criminal activity. Instead, Uber refused to issue any mandate, citing concerns for driver and passenger privacy.
The Failure of Uber’s 2014 “Safe Rides Fee”
In 2014, Uber implemented a “Safe Rides Fee” whose funds were to be used for enhanced safety measures. However, the company pocketed the profits and failed to reform its hiring processes or protocol for disciplining drivers accused of sexual assault.
Meanwhile, survivors of rideshare sexual assault were denied the right to litigate their claims against Uber in court, on account of the company’s long-standing mandatory arbitration policy. Uber ultimately suspended the policy in 2018, which had protected the company from unfavorable publicity and considerable payouts through silencing the survivors of sexual assault.
Uber Sexual Assault U.S. Safety Reports
Although Uber routinely failed to reform its hiring, disciplinary, and safety policies, it nevertheless possessed extensive data on the number of sexual assaults which occurred through its platform. In 2019, the company published a U.S. Safety Report detailing the number of incident reports it had received from 2017 and 2018.
The most common form of rideshare sexual assault involved the “non-consensual touching of a sexual body part”, which accounted for 3,000 of the combined 5,981 reports. The trends in Uber’s 2022 U.S. Safety Report for 2019 and 2020 were similar, despite an overall decrease in incidents connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Common Damages in Uber Driver Sexual Assault Lawsuits
Recovering from a sexual assault can require immediate medical assistance, long-term therapy, and lifelong adjustments. Fortunately, these financial, emotional, and psychological losses may be compensable in a court of law.
Plaintiffs in the ongoing Uber driver sexual assault MDL are actively pursuing compensation in the form of economic and non-economic damages, including:
- Medical costs – past, present, and future
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Mental anguish
- Decreased quality of life
- Loss of consortium
In order to determine the financial assistance to which you may be entitled, it is imperative to speak with a qualified rideshare sexual assault lawyer.
Contact an Experienced Uber Driver Sexual Assault Lawyer Today
Survivors of sexual assault commonly experience feelings of confusion, embarrassment, and anger in the aftermath of an attack. These feelings may discourage many from seeking assistance from healthcare providers and loved ones or pursuing a claim against liable parties.
We fully recognize and respect the hesitation survivors of rideshare sexual assaults display. At the same time, our goal is to ensure that they are fully informed of their rights and legal options.
In a free consultation, our experienced Uber driver sexual assault lawyers can perform a holistic assessment of your claim, determine the compensation to which you may be entitled, and assist you in making the important decision to file suit. We have considerable experience in handling sexual assault claims and are familiar with the intricacies of enrolling in an MDL.