Over the last few years, there have been thousands of reported rideshare sexual assault allegations across the country – a fair number of those in Florida. Filing civil sexual assault lawsuits against rideshare companies like Uber or Lyft is somewhat complicated by the fact that drivers are not employees, but independent contractors. As such, they can not be held vicariously liable for the actions of employees for wrongdoing on-the-job.
However, as our Palm Beach sexual assault attorneys can explain, they can be held responsible for direct negligence with respect to inadequate background checks and failure to warn passengers of a driver with a violent criminal record. There may in fact be several legal theories upon which you may base a successful claim against Uber, Lyft, or other rideshare company for failure to protect against sexual assault. This is true for drivers as well as passengers (as both have reportedly been attacked).
Two recent Florida rideshare liability lawsuits allege systemic shortcomings with respect to adequate background checks of drivers. One of those cases involves sexual assault, the other identity theft. (Even though the alleged crimes were dissimilar, the underlying issue with prior criminal records can establish a pattern.)
In one of those cases, a young woman in Tampa alleges an Uber driver sexually assaulted her after she scheduled a ride home after a night out. She was intoxicated, she said, and did the right thing by calling for an Uber driver to get her home safely. But according to the sheriff’s office, he did not take her home. Instead, he sexually assaulted her over a period of 4 hours. Eventually, he took her to the hotel where her friends were staying. Her friends said she returned with undergarments askew and having soiled herself. The following morning, after piecing together what happened, she went to a rape crisis center and underwent a sexual assault exam. When later questioned by police, the driver – who was twice the victim’s age – admitted to engaging in sexual intercourse with her, but insisted it was consensual. However, she said she was so impaired she has no memory of what happened. She did not consent – and could not have consented given how impaired she was.
The driver was arrested for sexual battery and has pleaded not guilty. But the Florida civil sexual assault lawsuit against Uber alleges the driver should never have been working for that company to begin with – especially knowing he’d be entrusted with the safety of vulnerable passengers absent any direct supervision.
His criminal record contains numerous arrests going back more than two decades, plus felony convictions for first-degree robbery with a firearm and drug possession. He also had a laundry list of previous driving offenses, and his driver’s license had been repeatedly suspended prior to the night in question.
Even though he has no prior arrests for sexual assault, the rest of his record should have been enough of a red flag for the rideshare company. Uber insists that its background check process is “rigorous.” But having an active driver with this type of record begs the question of just how accurate or detailed the process is – or whether drivers with these type of prior offenses are actually allowed.
Just last year, Uber was ordered to pay $10 million to two California cities for claims that its background checks were thorough – despite failing to take drivers’ fingerprints. The company no longer claims to have the “best” background check policy, but it still has a duty to do an adequate job.
In a single recent year, Uber reported it received 3,000 reports of sexual assaults on rides in the U.S. The company has also been accused of trying to force alleged victims of sexual assault to settle their cases through arbitration – a process that typically results in confidentiality agreements. In 2020, California regulators fined the company nearly $60 million for failure to comply with requests for information on sexual assaults involving its drivers.
Also last year, rideshare provider Lyft was hit with dozens of lawsuits by both drivers and passengers alleging sexual assault during rides – something the company failed to protect them from. Included in these are 156 rapes, thousands of incidents of non-consensual sexual touching, and 10 fatal assaults. Plaintiffs allege the company needs better background checks for drivers, dashcam video of all rides, and better training for drivers on how to handle these incidents.
If you have been a victim of a sexual assault in a South Florida rideshare – Uber, Lyft, or other provider – our Palm Beach civil trial lawyers will help you review your options for legal action.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Florida lawsuits raise serious questions about how Uber screens its drivers, June 19, 2023, By Katie LaGrone, ABC Action News