Thousands of people use ridesharing apps instead of buying their own vehicles, making it easier to run errands, go to work and meet up with friends. Ridesharing is also an affordable alternative to renting a car or using other forms of transportation while you’re on vacation. Despite these benefits, ridesharing is fraught with risks, including the risk of sexual assault. Here’s what you need to know about filing a rideshare assault lawsuit.
Risks of Ridesharing
Although Uber, Lyft and other companies conduct background checks, these checks aren’t as thorough as they could be. In most cases, a criminal background check only goes back 7 years. If a prospective driver committed sexual assault or another violent offense more than 7 years ago, it won’t come up in such a limited check.
Another risk of using ridesharing apps is that you’re giving your personal information to a stranger. If a driver picks you up from your home, they’ll know exactly where you live, making it easy to come back later and commit a crime.
Finally, ridesharing companies do such limited vetting that it’s possible for unscrupulous people to create fake accounts. If you think you’re getting a ride from “John,” you could end up getting in a car with “Frank” or “Timothy.” Drivers aren’t required to display photo IDs, so you have no way of knowing if your driver is who they say they are.
What Constitutes Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is a broad term that covers any nonconsensual sexual act. This includes unwanted fondling, attempted rape, rape and forcing someone to perform a sexual act against their will. Someone may also be charged with sexual assault if they engage in sexual contact with someone who doesn’t have the capacity needed to consent.
People lack capacity when they are intoxicated, are under the influence of drugs or have mental health conditions that prevent them from understanding the potential risks and consequences of sexual activity. To consent to intercourse, fondling and other sexual acts, a person must also understand that they have the right to refuse.
What to Do After a Rideshare Assault
Even if you don’t want to file a rideshare assault lawsuit, you should take a few steps to make sure someone is held accountable for your trauma. The first thing to do is file a police report. You can call 911 or visit a local police precinct to report the crime.
If you have physical injuries, go to the nearest emergency room. Many hospitals have Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners or Sexual Assault Response Teams available to ensure you get the care you need. These medical professionals have specialized training in preserving evidence and helping victims understand their options.
Finally, document as much as you can about the assault, including the driver’s name and license plate number. There’s no guarantee that Uber or Lyft will save the information indefinitely, so take a screenshot or write down the information in a notebook. It’s also helpful to save the receipt from your ride, keep copies of any messages you exchanged with the driver and write down as much as you can remember about what the driver looked like. If you remember something distinctive, such as a tattoo or piece of jewelry, document that as well.
Filing a Ridesharing Lawsuit
You’re not required to file a rideshare assault lawsuit, but it’s something you should consider. Unfortunately, many companies don’t take assault seriously unless it has the potential to affect their bottom line. A successful lawsuit holds a ridesharing company accountable for its failure to conduct thorough background checks and prevent its contractors from committing violent crimes.
Although there are many ridesharing apps available, Uber and Lyft are the most popular. Uber has taken a few steps to increase transparency, such as publishing safety reports, but that hasn’t stopped some of its drivers from engaging in criminal activity. In 2020, Uber received more than 3,800 reports of sexual assault, including 141 rapes. Some of those assaults were allegedly committed by passengers, but drivers still make up the majority of rideshare assault perpetrators.
Lyft has not published any safety reports, leaving users to guess about important safety issues. In 2019, more than 20 people sued Lyft for failing to conduct adequate background checks on its drivers. Shockingly, some of the assaults occurred after a healthcare provider or crisis center ordered a Lyft to ensure a female rider would get home safely.
What to Expect
If you decide to file a rideshare assault lawsuit, look for an attorney with extensive experience handling this type of case. An attorney can’t file criminal charges against a driver who committed sexual assault, but they can file a civil lawsuit. Once your attorney files a complaint, the case moves into the discovery process, which involves an exchange of information between the plaintiff and the defendant.
During discovery, your attorney may request copies of the driver’s background check and other documents to help build a case against the rideshare company. As you prepare to go to court, the rideshare company may have its legal team offer a settlement. Your attorney will advise you on whether you should accept the settlement or take your case in front of a jury. If you proceed to trial, the jury listens to all the evidence and then decides if the rideshare company was negligent in hiring the driver who assaulted you.
Hold Negligent Rideshare Companies Accountable
A successful rideshare assault lawsuit doesn’t erase your trauma or take away any injuries you suffered, but it does help hold the rideshare company accountable for its negligence. If you were sexually assaulted while using a ridesharing service, contact an experienced attorney right away. The sooner you act, the more time you have to build a case.
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