At least 17 people have sued rideshare giant Lyft over what they allege is the companies’ failure to protect both passengers and drivers against physical and sexual assault.
The lawsuits were announced in a press release on Wednesday. Thirteen plaintiffs say they were sexually assaulted during Lyft rides, and four claim that they were physically assaulted. The lawsuit accused Lyft of having a “history of hiring sexual predators.”
One plaintiff, Katherine Rasta, says she was attacked in June 2021 by a Lyft driver after she used the app to go home after a night out with friends in Phoenix, Arizona.
“Within five minutes of the ride beginning, the driver started making inappropriate comments and said he wanted to get a hotel room to smoke methamphetamine and have sex,” the press release said. “He continued to make sexual advances throughout the entire ride, and upon reaching the destination, he locked the doors, grabbed the phone out of [Rasta’s] hand, and sexually assaulted her. He also threatened her, saying ‘don’t tell anyone, remember I know where you live and where your friend lives now.'”
Rasta says that when she contact Lyft and reported the assault, “they didn’t care about what happened to me. They didn’t even follow up with me about it.”
Plaintiff Stella Grant, a Lyft driver from Chicago, said that in August 2021, an intoxicated passenger punched Grant in the head, face, back, and shoulder. At one point, the passenger allegedly “lunged forward and grabbed the steering wheel from the backseat while the vehicle was in motion, causing the vehicle to crash.”
The passenger also allegedly struck Grant in the face with a sharp object, cutting a deep gash and leaving a scar.
Lyft driver Stuart Berman said that an attack by a male passenger in September 2021 resulted in a brain injury that required two surgeries. Berman says he is still unable to walk or climb stairs at a normal speed.
An additional 12 plaintiffs filed lawsuits and arbitration demands “but wished to keep their stories private,” the press release said. Those plaintiffs include 10 passengers who were sexually assaulted in California, Ohio, Kentucky, Oregon, Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin; a passenger who was physically assaulted in Michigan; and a driver who was physically assaulted in Illinois.
Adam Wolf, whose firm Peiffer Wolf represents the plaintiffs, called the assaults a “nationwide crisis” and accused Lyft of failing to address the problem.
“It’s unconscionable that Lyft was aware of the ongoing problem for years and did virtually nothing,” Wolf said in the press release. “Lyft spends massive amounts of money on woke marketing messages and lobbying, but it refuses to protect its drivers and passengers. In reality, the only thing Lyft is concerned about protecting is its own profit margins.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney Tracey Cowan said that Lyft “has a responsibility to protect its passengers and drivers” and that “its refusal to do so has resulted in acts of violence that left our clients with disabilities, permanent deformities, and lifelong trauma.”
The complainants allege that Lyft’s classification of drivers as independent contractors, rather than employees, contributed to their injuries. They are seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.
In an email to Law&Crime, representatives for Lyft defended the company’s practices.
“We’re committed to helping keep drivers and riders safe,” the email said. “While safety incidents on our platform are incredibly rare, we realize that even one is too many. Our goal is to make every Lyft ride as safe as possible, and we will continue to take action and invest in technology, policies and partnerships to do so.”
Lyft emphasized its safety record and said that it makes ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of anyone using the app.
“Well over 99% of Lyft rides occur without any safety report at all,” the Lyft representative said. “In our Community Safety Report you can see that the rate of reported sexual assault incidents from 2017 to 2019 remained constant at 0.00002%.”
As to drivers, Lyft said that any driver who does not pass initial, annual, and continuous screenings is barred from the platform, and noted that all drivers are required to take a “community safety education course” created in partnership with the anti-sexual violence organization Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).
The company also denied that it doesn’t work with police to respond to complaints.
“Any assertion that we do not cooperate with law enforcement is false – it is our policy to respond to every valid law enforcement request and assist law enforcement with their investigations,” the email said.
As to protecting drivers, Lyft said that it has “instituted processes to proactively detect and take action against unsafe rider behavior,” including deactivating accounts, blocking users from creating new accounts, and requiring passengers to submit additional information before requesting a ride.
“Drivers can see riders’ ratings before accepting a ride, and have our support to decline rides if they ever feel unsafe,” the Lyft representative said.
Lyft also implied that the lawyers’ allegations in Wednesday’s press release aren’t accurate.
“Additionally, it is our understanding that a number of false and/or misleading claims may have been made by the attorneys at today’s press conference,” the email said.
Wolf said Lyft’s response is nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from the real issue of driver and passenger safety.
“Rather than protecting victims attacked in Lyft vehicles, Lyft vaguely attacks sexual survivor advocates,” Wolf said in an email. “More important is what Lyft didn’t say: that it is sorry that passengers and drivers were sexually assaulted and beaten using Lyft’s services.”
You can read Rasta’s complaint, along with Grant and Berman’s demands for arbitration, below.
[Image via Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images.]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]