SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A nationwide lawsuit was filed against Lyft on Wednesday by women who claim the company has failed to protect them from sexual assault and rape by refusing to properly screen or monitor its drivers.
14 women, from as close as Palo Alto and as far away as Charlotte, North Carolina, claim they were sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers. They filed the 40 page lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court.
They want Lyft to take more safety precautions to prevent potential assaults by drivers, including more thorough background checks as well as having cameras in each car.
According to the complaint, “The key to Lyft’s business model is getting as many new Lyft drivers on the road as possible. The more Lyft drivers and Lyft rides equals more money Lyft makes. Unfortunately, more careful screening and supervision would result in fewer drivers and lower profits.” Today, Stephen Estey, an attorney for the plaintiffs explained, “Their interest is in scaling the company bigger and what they’ve done in this case is they’ve put profits over the safety of people.”
The plaintiffs say they reported their assaults to Lyft, who assured them they would investigate but kept the women in the dark.
One victim named Kim described what happened after she reported her driver: “Lyft never returned my calls and sent me four emails in a span of nine months, one of which was an automated response. I was never updated on Lyft’s investigation. I was never informed of the driver’s employment or unemployment.”
Even after her driver was convicted for battery, the company would not disclose his status. “Their response was one sentence: they were unable to disclose the driver’s status, but they worked on the case, to ensure the safety of the platform. To this day, I do not know if he is still a rideshare driver.”
When it comes to police investigations, the plaintiffs say Lyft is not helpful.
“We know from what the officers that are doing these investigations have told our clients, is that Lyft has not been cooperative with their investigation,” said Michael Bomberger, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “Lyft requires police officers to get a subpoena, to get court orders to get basic information.”
The plaintiffs say they want Lyft to institute more thorough background checks for drivers. “If you want to work for Lyft all you have to do is go online and apply,” said Gladys, a plaintiff. “You don’t have to meet or talk to anybody because they don’t interview potential drivers.” The complaint points out that “Lyft does not require non-harassment training” for drivers.
The plaintiffs also believe Lyft should require cameras in all cars, noting that some drivers have installed cameras at their own expense for safety.
“Video of a ride would have shown my driver grabbing my phone away from me and climbing into the backseat…I slapped him and then broke my finger…I was held hostage for five hours,” said Gladys.
Other precautions plaintiffs are calling for include an emergency button, an alarm to notify Lyft if the driver deviates from the route, a requirement that Lyft report assault claims to police, and automatic suspension for drivers accused of assault.
“We know, in cases where our clients have reported that they’ve been assaulted and/or raped by a Lyft driver that they continue to drive after that complaint,” said Estey.
Lyft provided a statement from Mary Winfield, Lyft’s Head of Trust & Safety: “What the victims describe is terrifying and has no place in the Lyft community. One in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives — behavior that’s unacceptable for our society and on our platform. As a platform committed to providing safe transportation, we hold ourselves to a higher standard by designing products and policies to keep out bad actors, make riders and drivers feel safe, and react quickly if and when an incident does occur. Our commitment is stronger than ever, as we dedicate more resources in our continued effort to ensure our riders and drivers have the safest possible experience.”