Since Uber’s foundation in 2009, the rideshare company has expanded to multiple continents and redefined common carrier services in the twenty-first century. However, Uber has found itself at the center of multiple legal whirlwinds in recent years, including claims over wage theft and the retention of internal data from privy authorities.
The latest round of litigation targeting Uber addresses the company’s negligence that contributed to an environment where passengers faced undue risk of violent sexual assaults perpetrated by their drivers. Plaintiffs primarily assert that Uber routinely failed to provide basic security screenings, deterrents, or disciplinary measures which resulted in serious harm to Uber passengers.
In October 2023, a federal panel consolidated nearly 80 Uber sexual assault lawsuits for pretrial proceedings in a procedural mechanism known as multidistrict litigation (MDL). The development represented a considerable breakthrough in the efforts of survivors of Uber sexual assault to seek accountability and compensation from the often recalcitrant company. As the litigation advances in 2024, we have reviewed the recent history of the civil lawsuits that target Uber for their negligence.
Uber Sued Over Rideshare Driver Sexual Assaults
In 2019, Uber released the first of two U.S. Safety Reports containing statistics the company had collected about the security of its services. Aside from accident data and similar transit-related issues, the publication also includes a shocking analysis of thousands of sexual assault reports Uber had received between 2017 and 2018.
Ultimately, the revelations provided the impetus for civil litigation against Uber, whose various security failures had facilitated violent sexual assaults.
Federal Panel Grants Case Consolidation for Pretrial Proceedings
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) receives requests for and assesses the merits of pretrial case consolidation for individual lawsuits that raise similar questions of fact and law. In July 2023, a group of plaintiffs pursuing civil lawsuits against Uber for its failure to guarantee driver safety filed a petition with the JPML.
After oral arguments in September 2023, the panel granted plaintiffs’ request and established a multidistrict litigation in October. It ultimately transferred the litigation to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and selected Judge Charles R. Breyer to preside over the proceedings.
What Is Multidistrict Litigation?
Multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a vital federal procedure that involves the consolidation of cases for pretrial proceedings, including the discovery process and settlement negotiations. Establishing an MDL is a common way to alleviate the court system of the burden of managing hundreds or thousands of similar cases across multiple districts and diminishes the likelihood of inconsistent rulings.
In contrast to class action lawsuits, plaintiffs retain their own counsel throughout the proceedings. If the parties cannot reach a settlement agreement upon the conclusion of the MDL, each case is remanded to its court of origin for subsequent trials or negotiations.
Court Appoints Uber Sexual Assault MDL Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC)
Judge Breyer has consistently displayed a desire to streamline and expedite legal proceedings and quickly requested that plaintiffs establish a leadership structure in the Uber MDL. On December 6, he issued a ruling that appointed eleven attorneys to the authorized Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC), whose responsibilities include:
- Coordinating discovery process
- Conducting pretrial settlement negotiations
- Apprising the court and defense of plaintiffs’ position
In the same ruling, Judge Breyer orders representatives investigating additional claims to enroll their clients in the MDL, precluding an unpredictable or unmanageable surge in filings as the litigation advances. In the coming months, the prosecution is slated to submit a long-form complaint to the court, which could provide the basis for the streamlined enrollment of novel cases.
The Leadup to Rideshare Sexual Assault Litigation
Although some Uber drivers have likely committed sexual assaults for years, survivors had little recourse to seek accountability or compensation for their injuries, trauma, and losses from Uber itself. However, a series of developments in recent years paved the way for litigation in open court, including:
2018 Suspension of Uber’s Mandatory Arbitration Policy
For nine years, Uber relied upon a mandatory arbitration policy to resolve allegations of sexual assault leveled against its drivers. In effect, the policy prohibited survivors from seeking redress in court and required them to negotiate with the company quietly and unsatisfyingly.
The mandatory arbitration requirement did not bar survivors from pursuing criminal lawsuits against sexual assailants, but it severely limited their ability to hold Uber accountable for its role in failing to guarantee their safety. In 2018, Uber suspended the policy and effectively enabled survivors to seek justice through the court system.
However, despite general praise for the rideshare company’s decision, it nevertheless failed to implement corollary reforms to diminish the occurrence of sexual assaults in the first place.
2022 Sexual Assault Litigation in San Francisco Superior Court
Although rideshare passengers who suffered a violent sexual assault could technically pursue compensation from Uber itself in court, the company was evasive. In the context of car accidents, Uber sought to distance itself from the misconduct or negligence of its drivers by citing their independent contractor (IC) designation. It was prepared to do the same when facing civil litigation for sexual assaults.
However, in July 2022, a prominent law firm filed nearly 550 lawsuits against Uber in San Francisco County Superior Court. The development signaled to other prospective litigants the beginning of a greater legal campaign to acquire accountability and justice.
Liability in Uber Sexual Assault Lawsuits
Like other common carriers, Uber owes its passengers a “duty of care” to guarantee their safety and wellbeing. However, the company routinely breached this legal obligation by failing to reform its inadequate security protocol, consisting of:
- Poor background checks
- Lack of biometric verification
- Lax disciplinary measures
- Absence of in-car safety equipment
In addition, despite knowing of the rate at which vulnerable passengers were targeted by predatory drivers, Uber continued to advertise its services as safe and effective. As a result, it misled particularly young female riders and exposed them to serious injuries and assaults. On account of its negligence and dishonesty, Uber may be held liable for the damages Uber passengers suffered as a result of sexual assaults perpetrated by their Uber drivers.
Common Damages in Uber Driver Sexual Assault Claims
In Uber sexual assault lawsuits, plaintiffs reserve the right to seek financial compensation for their injuries and losses. Although some survivors of sexual assault are reticent to seek compensation for one of the most traumatic events in their lives, we strongly believe that it can provide a crucial lifeline of resources during their recovery.
Common damages in the ongoing Uber litigation include:
- Medical costs – past, present, and future
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Lost wages or income
- Pain and suffering
- Decreased quality of life
- Loss of consortium
Various online services claim to offer immediate compensation estimates. However, they are often inaccurate and fail to perform holistic assessments. In order to determine the case value for Uber sexual assault claims, we advise prospective plaintiffs to speak with qualified Uber sexual assault lawyers.
Contact an Experienced Rideshare Sexual Abuse Lawyer for Help
Uber has a long track record of prioritizing profits over passenger security. For example, in 2014, it instituted a “Safe Rides Fee”, an additional charge on most rides whose funds were meant to bankroll enhanced safety features. Uber pocketed the money and failed to implement reforms that might otherwise have protected passengers from the predatory behavior of its drivers.
Now that the irresponsible company is being held accountable for its negligence and disregard for rider safety, we want to help. In a free consultation, our experienced Uber sexual assault lawyers can explain your rights, determine the eligibility of your claim, and calculate the compensation to which you may be entitled.
Our talented legal team possesses over 120 combined years of personal injury law experience and considerable knowledge in handling extensive sexual assault litigation. Moreover, we work on a contingency-fee basis, which means you don’t pay unless we successfully resolve your case.
For more information and advice, contact us today.