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New lawsuits say Lyft failed to protect its users from physical and sexual assault

Lyft sign
Mario Tama
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The San Francisco-based ridesharing company Lyft is facing 17 new lawsuits brought by users of its service from around the country, who claim the company failed to protect passengers and drivers from physical and sexual assault.

Of the lawsuits, 14 were from people who said they were sexually assaulted while using Lyft, and three said they were physically assaulted. At a news conference to announce the lawsuits, five of the plaintiffs shared their stories.

Stella Grant, a former Lyft driver from Chicago, described how an intoxicated passenger attacked her after Grant tried to confirm the rider's identity in August of 2020.

"She quickly began abusing me verbally and physically," Grant said. "She was really violent with me while I was driving. She cursed at me and punched at my head and my face and back."

Grant said that, after the assault, she was left bleeding and had to go to the emergency room. Doctors recommended she receive physical therapy, but she said that she couldn't afford it; after losing her job at the start of the pandemic, she had been relying on Lyft to support her family.

Responding to the allegations presented in the lawsuits, a spokesperson for Lyft said the company is "committed to helping keep drivers and riders safe."

"While safety incidents on our platform are incredibly rare, we realize that even one is too many. Our goal is to make every Lyft ride as safe as possible, and we will continue to take action and invest in technology, policies and partnerships to do so," the spokesperson said.

Katherine Rasta, a passenger from Phoenix, said she was sexually assaulted in June of 2021. Her driver made unwanted sexual advances throughout the drive, she said, and once they arrived at her destination, he locked the car doors and sexually assaulted her.

"Then he told me, 'This is our little secret. Don't tell anyone. Remember, I know where you live, and I know where your friends live now. I doubt you'll want any trouble, right?'" Rasta said.

All of the drivers and passengers said Lyft did practically nothing to help them after they reported their assaults, other than telling them they were sorry for their experience and that they would suspend the account of the driver or passenger who assaulted them. Two drivers said Lyft offered them a few hundred dollars after they reported their assaults, but did not follow up with them afterward.

Attorneys and victims called on Lyft to make its service safer by installing cameras inside of all Lyft vehicles, conducting biometric fingerprint scans and background checks for drivers, and eliminating a policy that allows users to order a Lyft ride for someone else.

Adam Wolf, one of the attorneys representing the Lyft users, said it was clear that the company did not care about its passengers or drivers.

"The thing Lyft is most concerned about protecting is its own profit margins," Wolf said.

Attorneys also claimed that Lyft's policy on not sharing user information after an assault without a court order creates a major obstacle to even the most basic criminal investigations or civil protective orders.

"Lyft is on the side of the perpetrators, not the victims," Wolf said.

A Lyft spokesperson accused attorneys at the conference of making false and misleading claims about the company's safety policies. The representative noted that over 99% of rides occur without a safety report, that the company requires yearly background checks for drivers, and that it cooperates with all law enforcement investigations when presented with a valid request. The spokesperson also said all drivers are required to take a community safety education course before driving.

The new lawsuits come three years after 14 women filed a lawsuit against Lyft claiming that, after being sexually assaulted or raped by drivers, Lyft failed to take action even when it was aware of drivers who were accused of assault and purposefully ignored victims' reports.

"Rather than protecting victims attacked in Lyft vehicles, Lyft vaguely attacks sexual survivor advocates. More important is what Lyft didn't say: that it is sorry that passengers and drivers were sexually assaulted and beaten using Lyft's services," Wolf told TPR.

In 2021, Lyft revealed it had received over 4,000 reports of sexual assault from its users between 2017 and 2019. That report also showed that instances of sexual assault increased year after year, and included 360 total reports of non-consensual sexual penetration and 2,300 reports of "non-consensual touching of a sexual body part."

The plaintiffs in these most recent lawsuits said that the physical and psychological toll of their assaults is still fresh. Some said they pulled away from loved ones, and several reported having PTSD.

Amy Collins, a Lyft driver from Napa, Calif., said she was sexually assaulted in March of 2020 and described the outcome she wanted from the lawsuit.

"I hope that sharing my story, and my trauma, will get Lyft to care about the people who use its platform," Collins said.

Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio

Josh Peck