Uber & Lyft Riders Suing Drivers For Assault

Imagine you did the responsible thing and ordered an Uber or Lyft driver to take you home after tossing down a few too many libations but instead of arriving safe and sound the driver attacked you, perhaps armed with a weapon.

This is no fantasy but a real nightmare for an increasing number of ridesharers, as the following real-life horror stories will attest.

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  1. Justin Lavelle (23) of West Hollywood, California, was struck by a car on the Harbor (110) Freeway on January 31, 2018, after his Lyft driver, Tariq Rasheed, allegedly stopped on the freeway after the two argued, pepper-sprayed him, then ejected him from the car, leaving him on the freeway shoulder.

Lavelle’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Lyft and its employees. Rasheed defended his actions, saying that his fare had been quite drunk and attempted to grab the steering wheel from the front passenger seat to take control of the vehicle.

Rasheed said the two argued before he stopped on the freeway and told Lavelle to move into the back seat:

“I didn’t kick him out. He got out. I was very shocked, very scared what to do.”

Rasheed said he was motivated by self-preservation:

“I could not jeopardize my life. He was drunk. I almost had an accident, almost got killed. I warned him three times. He wouldn’t listen.”

The lawsuit charged Lyft with hired Rasheed carelessly and failed to adequately train or supervise him. Defense counsel Conal Doyle stated:

“This lawsuit has been brought to ensure that Justin’s life was not taken in vain.”We are seeking to improve safety in the ride-sharing industry and to hold the responsible parties accountable.”

  1. An inebriated San Diego woman ordered an Uber for a safe exit after an evening of cocktails. She was so drunk she asked the driver to pull over so she could vomit before passing out in the back seat. She woke up to find that her driver was raping her a block from her home.

The California woman managed to escape and dial 911 emergency services. Uber driver John David Sanchez, 54, was arrested. When police searched his computer, “they found videos of Sanchez raping women and abusing young teenagers, dating back at least five years.” Sanchez gave marijuana and alcohol to many of his victims. The youngest victim of his lewd acts was 13 years old.

In August 2017, the defendant pled guilty to 34 counts including rape and sodomy of an unconscious person and felony sexual assault for incidents occurring between 2011 and 2014 in San Diego. In November 2017, a judge sentenced Sanchez to 80 years and 4 months in prison. The Uber driver, who had no prior criminal record, was fired. The company issued an official statement:

“Uber takes safety incidents like this very seriously” and has “been working closely with law enforcement.”

  1. In early September, major media outlets reported that 14 women had filed a lawsuit against Lyft in San Francisco Superior Court for allegedly mishandling reports of sexual assault and rape they made against their drivers. The incidents happened between January 2018 and June 2019 across the country from California to North Carolina.

The women say Lyft “chooses to stonewall” law enforcement investigations and fails to give victims information about the status of the drivers they reported for sexual assault or rape.

Lyft conducts negligent pre-employment background checks, they further claim, and fails to protect passengers with safety technology. The ridesharing company has opted to “hide and conceal” the extent of its “sexual predator crisis.”

Two years ago, a Business Insider article focused on ridesharing drivers as the victims of angry, flaky or passed-out customers. A driver from Phoenix, Arizona, confided:

“One of the worst situations you can find yourself in as an Uber driver is when a bar over serves, calls an Uber for their nearly passed out patron and they put them in your backseat and tell you their home is loaded in as the destination. The lesson is that drivers have to always lock their doors before allowing anybody into their vehicle.”

The Uber driver advised calling 911 or delivering unresponsive passengers to the police – rather than deal with a dead body in the car.

A driver from Salt Lake City, Utah, complained about an unsavory incident involving “a young kid late at night” who “later submitted a false report to Uber in order to try to get his fare refunded, claiming that I had driven dangerously, sped and committed road rage against other drivers. He could have got me fired over his $13 fare.”

The consequences for the driver could have been much worse than they were:

“Uber issued me a warning, and a threat that ‘if I did it again’ I’d be deactivated. I told them that the [passenger] was a liar and showed them the trip record. Average speed was 21 mph, which blew the liar’s claim out of the water and shut Uber up.”

In response to these many allegations of criminal wrongdoing during rideshares, Uber is testing a new safety app feature in high-crime Brazil and Mexico that allows drivers and/or passengers to privately audio-record the trip to report problems, demonstrate guilt or prove innocence.

Privacy supporters warn that Uber’s new “safety surveillance” audio recordings during rides without prior knowledge and consent by the vehicle’s participants violate civil privacy rights. Some U.S. states have wiretapping legislation that outlaw recording people without consent from all parties to a conversation.

It’s clear that ridesharing services, while convenient, come at some risk to both the provider and the recipient. A Long Beach woman who woke up with her Uber driver assaulting her said:

“You don’t think it will happen to you. I still feel ashamed…”

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