Lawsuit filed in Federal court in California alleges that Uber allowed driver-attacker to violently and sexually abuse riders like plaintiff
National plaintiffs law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP and Washington, D.C. firm Nigh Goldenberg Raso & Vaughn have filed a federal personal injury lawsuit on behalf of Doe Plaintiff “M.F.A.” against Uber Technologies and related entities alleging harassment, physical attack, sexual assault, and battery committed by a vetted Uber driver in June of 2023. The lawsuit further includes claims that Uber misled plaintiff and the public into believing it provided safe rides and that it was addressing safety issues, including sexual assault, in violation of the company’s statutory and common law duties.
“The plaintiff in this injury lawsuit trusted Uber and its highly-publicized safety protections for a simple two-stop ride,” notes Lieff Cabraser partner Sarah R. London, who represents M.F.A. in the lawsuit. “That trust was betrayed in a shocking and profound violation of trust and her personal safety and well-being. Uber needs to be held accountable for the actions of its driver and its failures and violations of relevant law.”
As the Complaint details, Uber promises a safe ride and claims its platform was built with “safety in mind,” but the company has consistently chosen growth over safety. It has known since at least 2014 that its platform had become a conduit for sexual abuse, but refused to take steps necessary to protect those who trust the company with their lives and livelihoods.
Indeed, reports show that thousands of Uber passengers are sexually assaulted each year. The company itself disclosed that it had received approximately 6,000 reports of sexual assault and 464 allegations of rape in its rides between 2017 and 2018 alone. In June 2022, Uber disclosed 3,824 reports of the five most severe categories of sexual assault in 2019 and 2020, ranging from “non-consensual kissing of a non-sexual body part” to “non-consensual sexual penetration,” also known as rape. While Uber tried to tout the seeming drop in reports, these numbers obscure a much higher rate of sexual abuse in Uber rides, as 2020 ridership plummeted during the COVID-era shelter-in-place orders. Further, sexual abuse in Uber rides are notoriously under-reported, and experts estimate that approximately 18,000 passengers and drivers are sexually abused each year during a rideshare ride in the U.S.
As noted in the Complaint, Uber, including at the direction and control of founder Travis Kalanick, “intentionally performed the act of hiring its drivers without interviewing them, without fingerprinting them, without running them through the FBI databases, and using fast and shallow background checks.” In taking these actions, Kalanick and Uber knew or should have known that it was highly probable that harm would result; their “quick-and-dirty” approach represented a deliberate choice to gamble with passenger health and safety.
The Complaint also observes that “Uber’s greed and complete disregard for rider safety or the rule of law is breathtaking. Uber’s policy is that it will not report any criminal activity it learns of to law-enforcement authorities. That includes allegations of sexual assault.” Uber has a longstanding policy that it will not report any criminal activity – even assaults and rape – to law-enforcement authorities.
Worse, Uber will not cooperate with law enforcement without a subpoena, but alerts its drivers about any investigations, allowing perpetrators time to flee and evade arrest. Further, Uber continues to give offending drivers multiple “strikes” when it receives reports of abuse by drivers, which keeps predators at the wheel even after serious passenger complaints. And as if all that weren’t enough, Uber has also lagged behind in implementing best practices regarding video cameras and driver selection, which can offer additional protection to passengers and drivers.
Recognizing that sexual abuse was a serious and pervasive problem with its platform, Uber implemented “Safe Ride Fees” in 2014—but never used that money to actually make its passengers safer, and did not train drivers on issues of sexual assault and harassment. Instead, Uber has continued to make it easier for drivers to quickly get on the road—allowing drivers to start after a 15-minute application process.
“After nearly 15 years of negligence and the facilitation of sexual and other assault against adults, Uber continues to market its services toward women and teens, advertising that its rides are safe and a better alternative to driving under the influence,” notes Nigh Goldenberg Raso & Vaughn partner Marlene Goldenberg, who also represents the plaintiff in the suit. “Uber loves to stress its so-called ‘safety features,’ but those features do not include comprehensive background checks, feasible modifications to its app and cars, or meaningful and responsive action on sexual assault complaints.”
The lawsuit seeks past and future economic and non-economic damages including for pain, mental anguish, anxiety, medical expenses, lost earnings and lost earning capacity as well as punitive damages and equitable and injunctive relief as the Court may deem just and proper.
Sarah R. London
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP