Uber commonly advertises its rideshare services as a safer and more accessible alternative to traditional common carriers. However, a series of high-profile and disturbing lawsuits allege that the company jeopardized the security of its passengers and caused violent sexual assaults through negligent business practices.
One of the most complicated components of the ongoing litigation is establishing Uber’s liability as a third party. Plaintiffs have primarily argued that Uber owed its passengers a duty of care, but failed to observe it while hiring and disciplining its drivers. As a result, thousands of women were subjected to the predatory behavior and vicious attacks of unsupervised and seldom disciplined Uber drivers.
Table of contents
- Uber Failed to Ensure Rider Safety and Breached Basic Duty of Care
- 2014 Safe Rides Fee and Mandatory Arbitration
- 2019 and 2022 U.S. Safety Reports Reveal Uber’s Knowledge of Sexual Abuse
- Federal Panel Consolidates Uber Sexual Assault Lawsuits
- Common Damages in Uber Driver Sexual Assault Litigation
- Contact an Experienced Uber Sexual Assault Lawyer for Help Today
Uber Failed to Ensure Rider Safety and Breached Basic Duty of Care
In contrast to criminal litigation against the perpetrators of rideshare sexual assaults, the ongoing lawsuits are civil in nature. Consequently, they target Uber as a third-party facilitator of sexual assault and advance complex theories of liability.
The rideshare giant has long exploited its Transportation Network Company (TNC) classification and the independent contractor (IC) designation of its drivers to evade liability in the context of car accidents. Now, it is citing these technicalities to avoid legal ramifications for sexual assaults perpetrated by its independent contractors.
Nevertheless, plaintiffs argue that Uber’s various security failures and wanton disregard for passenger safety override the liminal relationship it maintains with its drivers. Ultimately, they assert that Uber owed passengers a duty of care and subsequently breached it.
The continual mishandling of sexual assault reports and corporate mismanagement have since translated into a variety of accusations which include:
- General negligence
- Common carrier negligence
- Negligent Misrepresentation
- Vicarious liability
In order to substantiate these charges and the grounds for liability, plaintiffs point to a series of failures that endangered the safety of passengers, such as:
Inadequate Uber Driver Background Checks and Security Screenings
Uber’s business model is predicated on the exponential increase in driver availability. Consequently, it has relied upon expeditious and oftentimes hasty security screenings to streamline the approval of applications.
Rideshare applicants rarely attend interviews either digitally or in person to verify their identity, nor does Uber employ biometric verification to preclude the submission of false data. In addition to the heightened risk of fraudulence, Uber’s refusal to cross-reference applicant information with publicly accessible federal databases further enabled individuals with criminal histories to evade detection.
Plaintiffs in the rideshare sexual assault litigation argue that Uber’s lax background checks and security screenings placed vulnerable passengers in harm’s way.
Lack of In-Car Safety Features Contributed to Rideshare Sexual Assaults
Although Uber was aware of sexual assaults at least as early as 2014, it failed to undertake a concerted campaign to increase security protocol. Aside from insufficient application standards, plaintiffs allege that Uber’s conscious decision not to employ reasonable driver monitoring systems contributed to or caused their sexual assaults.
For example, Uber continues to maintain a neutral stance on the installation of dash-cams or other recording devices within driver vehicles, arguing that any corporate mandate would infringe on driver and passenger privacy. However, the elective option has increased the likelihood that Uber drivers will commit sexual assaults in secrecy and deprive law enforcement or Uber Headquarters of incriminating evidence.
Given the decade-long knowledge Uber has possessed about the frequency with which drivers perpetrated sexual assaults, the rideshare company’s failure to require deterrents grossly endangered riders – many of whom were young women.
Uber Headquarters’ “Stonewalling” Authorities
One of the more severe allegations leveled against Uber addresses its noncooperation with local law enforcement investigating the misconduct of its drivers. The company states that it does not automatically refer incident reports to the appropriate authorities without the survivor’s consent.
However, even those women who reported sexual assaults confronted an obstinate corporate headquarters. In many cases, the rideshare company stands accused of refusing to provide investigators with crucial records and potentially incriminating evidence without a court order.
2014 Safe Rides Fee and Mandatory Arbitration
Uber knew of the alarming rates of sexual assault at least as early as 2014 when it instituted a so-called Safe Rides Fee. The purported purpose of the additional charge was to fund more extensive security protocol.
Unfortunately, the rideshare company pocketed the funds it received and refused to reinvest them in heightened and more scrupulous background checks. All the while, it continued to advertise its services as safe and secure.
Moreover, until its suspension in May 2018, Uber employed a mandatory arbitration clause to settle sexual assault claims internally and privately. The policy largely denied survivors of sexual assault the ability to pursue lawsuits in open court, and resolutions often included some manner of non-disclosure agreement to prevent negative publicity.
2019 and 2022 U.S. Safety Reports Reveal Uber’s Knowledge of Sexual Abuse
Until 2019, Uber withheld vital information about its internal sexual assault statistics from the public and passengers alike. With the publication of an explosive U.S. Safety Report that year, the company disclosed that it had received 2,936 and 3,045 sexual assault reports in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
The report subdivides incidents into 5 broad categories, the commonest of which was “non-consensual touching of a sexual body part”. Although Uber touts an average decrease in the major categories of sexual assault within the timeframe, it does not reveal that its internal investigations rarely resulted in disciplinary measures or the suspension of accused drivers.
The second U.S. Safety Report contains the information Uber collected between 2019 and 2020. Although the pandemic resulted in a drastic decrease in overall rides and therefore a diminishment of total sexual assault incidents, pre-Covid levels were comparable to those in 2017.
Federal Panel Consolidates Uber Sexual Assault Lawsuits
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) accepts and evaluates petitions for the consolidation of individual lawsuits for pretrial proceedings. After a dramatic surge in Uber driver sexual assault litigation, a group of plaintiffs filed a request with the federal panel, in July 2023.
Plaintiffs argued that the similarity of their claims and the common defendants that they targeted justified and necessitated the establishment of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). The JPML granted plaintiffs’ request and transferred several dozen Uber sexual assault lawsuits to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The October 2023 decision represented a breakthrough in sexual assault survivors’ pursuit of justice and accountability. In the future, Judge Charles R. Breyer, the presiding magistrate, will likely obligate plaintiffs’ counsel to devise a leadership counsel to orchestrate strategy and conduct crucial evidentiary collection.
Common Damages in Uber Driver Sexual Assault Litigation
Survivors of sexual assault commonly experience feelings of shame and embarrassment which may discourage them from seeking medical treatment or holding their assailants to account. The legal team at LLN recognizes and respects the reticence survivors display when making a potentially life-changing decision to pursue justice.
Nonetheless, in order to make the best decision, we believe that survivors should be fully informed of their rights, Uber’s liability, and the compensation to which they may be entitled.
The ongoing civil litigation against Uber provides survivors the opportunity to seek financial assistance for the injuries and losses they sustained on account of the company’s negligence and misrepresentations, including:
- Medical expenses – past, present, and future
- Therapy or psychiatric care
- Lost wages and income
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Decreased quality of life
Contact an Experienced Uber Sexual Assault Lawyer for Help Today
Although the Uber driver sexual assault MDL is still in an embryonic state, the allegations and factual records in current complaints reveal a reckless business model and warped corporate strategy. It appears that the embattled rideshare company knew of the risks its drivers posed to passenger safety, but failed to terminate accused sexual assailants or revise its background checks, security screenings, and in-car driver monitoring protocol.
Now that the survivors of sexual assault are pursuing civil litigation against the company, we want to help. Our experienced Uber sexual assault lawyers possess extensive knowledge about the complexities of Uber’s liability and the process of enrolling in an MDL.
In a free consultation, we can explain the eligibility of your claim and the compensation to which you may be entitled. Most importantly, we will listen to your story and assist you in making a decision that best guarantees your well-being while protecting your rights.
For more information and advice, consider contacting us today.