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. Continue reading