Lyft Hit with 13 Lawsuits Over Sexual, Physical Assaults

Lyft Inc. was recently hit with 13 lawsuits in California state court alleging the ride-hailing giant’s systemic failure to conduct thorough background checks and screenings exposed both drivers and passengers to rampant sexual and physical assaults.

Eleven passengers and two drivers from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin filed separate suits in San Francisco Superior Court asserting negligence, vicarious liability, misrepresentation and other claims against Lyft. The plaintiffs are all represented by Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise LLP.

Ten passengers, who each filed a complaint under a Jane Doe pseudonym, and plaintiff Katherine Rasta similarly allege that Lyft has known for years of a "sexual predator crisis" among its drivers. Yet, it continually fails to perform adequate background checks on drivers, who can simply fill out an online form to drive for Lyft, they alleged.

Moreover, the company doesn't offer any harassment training, doesn't implement any reasonable driver monitoring procedures to protect passenger safety, and doesn't adequately investigate passenger complaints of sexually inappropriate behavior or serious sexual assaults, they alleged.

Rasta alleged in her complaint that after a night out with friends in Phoenix in June 2021, she ordered a Lyft ride home. The driver who picked her up, Brian, repeatedly commented on her appearance during the ride and asked her to get a hotel room with him so they could "party," according to the complaint. At the end of the ride, the driver "reached into the back seat and grabbed plaintiff's genitals under her shorts against her will," which Rasta said left her "humiliated, degraded, violated, and robbed of her dignity and personal safety."

But the drivers said they're also getting harassed and attacked by unruly passengers, and they said Lyft isn't protecting them either.

Driver Erika Garcia-Galicia alleged in her complaint that in February, she picked up a male passenger who made "unsettling comments regarding his recent incarceration, schizophrenia diagnosis, being molested by a therapist, and even explicitly described his own genitals."

The passenger refused to exit the car upon reaching his destination and kept pestering Garcia-Galicia to give him her phone number, which she declined to do multiple times. She alleged that the passenger then lunged forward, groped her, and pulled her head toward him to kiss her. She sprayed hand sanitizer in his face in an attempt to break free before he finally exited the vehicle, and Garcia-Galicia was able to drive away and call 911, according to the complaint. Garcia-Galicia contends she now experiences anxiety and panic attacks, has since stopped driving for Lyft, and the company never contacted her to check up on her.

Driver Amy Collins alleged in her complaint that in March 2020, she picked up an intoxicated male who made inappropriate comments while inching toward her seat and rubbing her arms. Collins attempted to both verbally and physically get him to return to his seat, but the passenger pressed himself against her seat from behind, reached around her with both arms, and began groping and fondling her, according to her complaint. When she attempted to push him away, the passenger wrapped his hands around her neck, choking her and resumed groping her, pinning her to her seat, which continued until they reached the destination. Collins contends she was paralyzed by fear, unable to reach for her phone to contact the police because the passenger pinned her to her seat as she drove down the highway, according to the complaint.

Additionally, Peiffer Wolf said it filed arbitration demands on behalf of other assault victims.

Peiffer Wolf partner Adam Wolf said in a Wednesday statement that it is "unconscionable that Lyft was aware of the ongoing problem for years and did virtually nothing."

"Lyft spends massive amounts of money on 'woke' marketing messages and lobbying, but it refuses to protect its drivers and passengers," Wolf said. "In reality, the only thing Lyft is concerned about protecting is its own profit margins."

Peiffer Wolf partner Tracey Cowan said in a Wednesday statement that "Lyft has a responsibility to protect its passengers and drivers [and] its refusal to do so has resulted in acts of violence that left our clients with disabilities, permanent deformities, and lifelong trauma."

Lyft in October 2021 released its first-ever Community Safety Report, which stated that during the three-year period from 2017 to 2019, Lyft received reports of 4,158 sexual assaults. Those incidents ranged from nonconsensual touching or kissing of sexual or nonsexual body parts to attempted rape. The number includes 360 rapes, labeled in the report as nonconsensual sexual penetration.

"While safety incidents on our platform are incredibly rare, we realize that even one is too many," Lyft said in October. "Behind every report is a real person and real experience, and our goal is to make each Lyft ride as safe as we possibly can."

Lyft maintained that from 2017 to 2019, over 99% of trips occurred without any reported safety incident. And the safety incidents referenced in the report accounted for just 0.0002% of all trips, it said.

The company also defended its driver screening procedures, saying it requires an initial and annual background checks, and continuous criminal and driving record monitoring, among other things. Lyft said it developed in-app safety features that allow riders and drivers to share their location with family and friends, connect directly with Lyft Support, and quickly and easily access emergency assistance from the Lyft app.

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