With dozens of women suing Uber over alleged sexual attacks by drivers in multiple U.S. states, a Bay Area law firm representing plaintiffs submitted a court petition Monday to group more than 80 cases into a single legal action.
Two of the alleged incidents occurred in San Jose, one in Walnut Creek and one in San Francisco, said lawyer Meghan McCormick, representing the plaintiffs.
The dozens of lawsuits claim the San Francisco ride-hailing giant knew as early as 2014 that its drivers were raping and sexually assaulting female passengers. “In the seven years since, sexual predators driving for Uber have continued to sexually assault, harass, kidnap, physically assault, and/or rape Uber’s passengers,” the suits filed in San Francisco Superior Court and other California state courts allege. “Uber has failed to implement basic safety measures necessary to prevent these serious sexual assaults, which continue to this day.”
Uber said that for most of the suits, it hadn’t received enough details from the plaintiffs’ lawyers or the lawsuits to connect the claims to Uber. In the cases with sufficient information, the drivers — whom the company found had cleared motor vehicle and criminal background checks — were banned from the platform, Uber said.
“Sexual assault is a devastating crime and although no industry is immune from these issues, we remain steadfast in our commitment to support victims and help stop sexual violence by collaborating with experts, pioneering safety tech solutions, and setting the standard on transparency and accountability,” Uber said in an emailed statement Monday.
Allegations that ride-sharing drivers have sexually assaulted female passengers are not limited to Uber. The firm’s San Francisco rival Lyft is the subject of a similar legal action, also facing dozens of claims that have been consolidated into one legal action.
The suits against Uber, filed starting May 25, are virtually identical, with the women identified only as “Jane Doe” because they are alleged sexual assault victims. In most of the cases, details of the claimed attacks are not mentioned. One case, from Kern County, involves claimed rape at gunpoint. McCormick said her firm expects to disclose the specifics of each attack “as necessary” in the case, as long as judicial orders are in place to protect the plaintiffs’ anonymity.
The suits relate to alleged incidents across the U.S. dating back to 2014, McCormick said. Fourteen incidents allegedly occurred after late 2019 when Uber issued its “Safety Report” that revealed thousands of sexual assaults had been reported during rides and concluded with an assertion by the company that in response it had “launched more safety features than ever before.”
The most recent alleged incident occurred April 30 in San Diego, McCormick said, adding that other women have contacted her firm claiming they were assaulted more recently but have yet to join the legal action. “We’re still getting cases where somebody will say, ‘This happened last night,’” McCormick said.
The lawsuits cite Uber marketing campaigns and allege that Uber has “cultivated an image among its customers of safety and superiority to public transportation and traditional taxis.”
Of 200 or so additional women McCormick’s firm represents in the matter — most of them expected to join the legal action — more than 100 allege they were attacked by Uber drivers after the report was issued, McCormick said, adding that at least one other law firm is also filing similar cases in California state courts.
McCormick said Uber has “taken some steps to add safety features to the app” but hasn’t undertaken what she believes would do the most to prevent attacks: requiring cameras in all vehicles driving for Uber, or giving passengers the option to choose only drivers with cameras in their vehicles.
Uber said drivers are free to install dashboard cameras, and the company has recently added a registration program that helps drivers understand local laws around the use of such cameras.
Uber also listed a number of investments it said it has made in passenger safety, including meeting with more than 200 women’s and sexual violence prevention groups worldwide, and since 2017 tripling to more than 300 the members of its “safety team” for passengers and riders. All U.S. drivers undergo motor-vehicle and criminal records checks before they’re taken on, and annually, Uber said, adding that it tracks data sources to detect any new criminal offenses by drivers.
The petition to unify the lawsuits was sent to the Judicial Council of California, to be assigned to a judge who will rule on the request.
Uber in December was hit with a $59 million fine by the California Public Utilities Commission for allegedly defying demands for details about the Safety Report’s reported attacks and its responses to them. Uber noted that its report, which also included crash, fatality and homicide data, was an industry first, and argued that fulfilling the commission’s demands would create a “shocking violation” of sexual assault victims’ privacy.
McCormick’s firm, Levin Simes Abrams in San Francisco, has filed about 80 similar lawsuits against Uber’s rival Lyft that accuse that company of failing to protect female passengers from “sexual predators” in the driver’s seat. Hundreds more women have retained the firm on those allegations against Lyft, said Angela Nehmens, a lawyer at the firm. Lyft, responding late last year to the consolidated lawsuits, said it continually invests in new features and policies to protect passengers and drivers.
*By Ethan Baron, Mercury News*