IS UBER RESPONSIBLE IF I AM ASSAULTED IN A CAR?

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Individuals have the right to feel and be protected wherever they are, including in a rideshare vehicle. However, Uber is not very diligent in its hiring practices. The background checks only go back seven years, and Uber doesn’t interview drivers before they’re hired. This low standard for hiring drivers can put passengers in harm’s way.

When a rideshare company like Uber is negligent in its hiring practices and you become the victim of sexual assault, you may be entitled to compensation. If you are unable to prove Uber’s negligence, you may also bring a lawsuit against the perpetrator. Uber can be held liable for the actions of its drivers, particularly when they carelessly hire (or fail to fire) a dangerous driver.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines sexual assault as “a sexual act that is committed or attempted by another person without freely given consent of the victim or against someone who is unable to consent or refuse.”

Sexual assault can include many things, including:

  • Unwanted kissing
  • Unwanted touching
  • Attempted rape
  • Rape that includes penetration of another’s body or forcing someone to penetrate another’s body
  • Non-consensual forced acts, such as oral sex
  • Unwanted exposure to pornography
  • Verbal or behavioral sexual harassment

Sexual assault always has an element of force, though that force may not necessarily be physical. Force can also include verbal threats, manipulation, or coercion that compels someone to do something they do not want to do. In the United States, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been victims of rape at some point in their lives. If you have been a victim of sexual violence, you are not alone.

WHO CAN BE SUED IF YOU'RE

Sexually assaulted in an Uber car?

If you are sexually assaulted by an Uber driver, you have the right to sue the company. Legal action against Uber would focus on the negligent hiring practices that allowed you to get into a car with a predator. If it can be proven to a jury that weaknesses in Uber’s security policies allowed a dangerous person to transport passengers, they can be held liable for compensation.

The driver can also be held personally responsible for the assault. By filing a civil lawsuit, a sexual abuse survivor can hold their abuser accountable. In some cases, it may be difficult to collect compensatory damages from an individual depending on the limits of their insurance policy. Still, the legal process can bring vindication and closure to an unjust act.

In addition to a civil suit, a sexual assault incident can result in criminal prosecution. In this case, the perpetrator may be subject to jail time, fines, probation, and other sanctions against the offender.

What claims can be filed against Uber when sexually assaulted?

In any lawsuit filed against a rideshare company like Uber, the key element is negligence. In any personal injury lawsuit, there is a legal standard that must be met to prove negligence and assign fault. Uber may be found liable if:

  • There was a duty of care owed to a client
  • There was a breach of that duty
  • The breach of duty directly caused harm to a person
  • That person suffered actual damages as a result of the incident

Big companies like Uber and Lyft treat their rideshare drivers as independent contractors instead of actual employees. As a result, the companies cannot be sued under a legal theory called vicarious liability. When applied to cases of sexual assault, the doctrine of vicarious liability says that the company cannot be held responsible for the actions of its drivers.

Since drivers are not employees, they are independently responsible for crimes they commit, such as sexual assault. It can be difficult to bring a lawsuit against a rideshare company because they are not automatically responsible for the actions of their drivers. But difficult does not mean impossible. There have been several lawsuits brought against Uber and Lyft alleging negligence of different kinds, including:

  • Negligent hiring practices
  • Negligent supervision
  • Negligent retention
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress

Personal injury attorneys can represent people who have been sexually assaulted by an Uber or Lyft driver and hold the ride-sharing company accountable. The attorney will claim that the company has a legal obligation to implement safety practices to recruit, train, and retain qualified and safe drivers. By proving that the company failed to meet legal requirements during the hiring process, an attorney can hold them liable for the sexual assault.

If it can be proven that Uber, Lyft, or another rideshare company is liable for the sexual assault, their insurance coverage would come into play. While drivers may have smaller insurance policies, rideshare companies have much deeper pockets. In a personal injury case, a sexual assault victim could collect damages for:

Current and future
medical bills
Loss of income resulting
from the incident
Costs associated with
therapy
Pain and suffering of the
victim

If you have been a victim of sexual violence at the hands of an Uber driver, it is worth your time to consult with a personal injury lawyer. There are statutes of limitations that may apply depending on the level of sexual assault you experienced. If you wait beyond the allowable period, you may lose your right to pursue justice through a civil suit.

HOW COMMON IS

Sexual assault during Uber rides?

Sexual misconduct by Uber drivers is more common than you might think. There was a daily average of 3.1 million trips completed in the United States in 2017 and 2018. And according to a safety report released by Uber in 2019, there were reports of non-consensual touching of sexual body parts in one out of every 800,000 completed trips.

That is an average of almost four incidents per day. Other allegations of sexual misconduct during this time included:

  • Non-consensual kissing of a non-sexual body part 1.55 times daily
  • Unwelcome kissing of a sexual body part 1 time per day
  • Unwanted attempted penetration .77 times daily
  • Non-consensual sexual penetration .62 times per day

Research by the Centers for Disease Control shows that sexual violence is common. More than one out of three women and one out of four men report experiences of sexual violence during their lifetimes.

Research also indicates that these numbers are lower than the actual rate of occurrences because many cases go unreported. Victims who feel fear, shame, or embarrassment may never tell anyone about their experience. This is likely true for Uber sexual assault reports as well.

HOW DOES

Uber define sexual assault?

According to their 2019 US Safety Report, Uber says they partnered with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and the Urban Institute to develop a classification system to clarify categories of unwanted sexual incidents. They also state that this collaboration led to the development of a tool that corporations can use to understand and categorize reports of sexual misconduct by consumers.

To have been included as an Uber-related sexual assault in their research, one or both of the following scenarios must apply:

The alleged misconduct happened during an active Uber-facilitated trip.

The assault took place between people who had been paired by the Uber app, and it occurred within 48 hours of the trip’s completion.

For purposes of their reporting, Uber used the following five categories for sexual assault:

  1. Non-consensual kissing of a non-sexual body part
  2. Non-consensual kissing of a sexual body part
  3. Non-consensual touching of a sexual body part
  4. Attempted non-consensual penetration
  5. Non-consensual sexual penetration

Uber will begin releasing a safety report every two years, claiming this kind of transparency will help keep passengers and drivers safer. However, critics say releasing a report doesn’t go far enough and that Uber should exercise more caution in their hiring and retention practices. Some also say that Uber drivers should have a camera in their car for the protection of themselves and their passengers.

If You Have Been a Victim of Sexual Assault by an Uber Driver, There Is Help

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available to anyone who has been a victim of sexual violence. A confidential call allows you to talk through what happened with a caring and trained staff member. They can help you contact law enforcement to report your claim and put you in contact with local resources that help care for sexual assault survivors. ​​

Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to talk to a trained professional for help.