Fourteen women who said they were raped or sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers have filed a lawsuit against the ride-hail company, arguing that the app enables drivers to assault passengers.
The lawsuit cites 14 attacks against Lyft passengers between 2018 and 2019. In one attack in Alabama, a blind woman’s cane was stolen by her Lyft driver, who then allegedly raped her.
In six of the incidents, the women had fallen asleep in the car and awoke to the Lyft driver sexually assaulting them, the lawsuit states. In another instance, the Lyft driver pretended to help a stumbling passenger who’d been drinking walk to their door, before allegedly raping them inside their home.
“Lyft knew from the outset that sexual assault was going to be a problem, especially because they have vulnerable passengers who have been drinking,” said the lead plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Estey.
In a statement, Lyft’s head of trust and safety said what the women describe in the lawsuit “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,” she added. “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.”
One of the plaintiffs, Gladys Arce, said at a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday that she requested a Lyft pick her up from a Halloween party, but the driver locked the doors, said “I love you” to her, terminated the ride in the app, and continued to drive her around, kidnapping her.
Arce said the driver was smoking crack in the car as he told her about other assaults he’d committed. He then allegedly assaulted her in the back of the car, during which she broke a finger. Arce said he then drove her to a beach and raped her. In all, it was a nearly five-hour ordeal, she added.
Despite Arce reporting the incident to police, he continued to drive for Lyft, the lawsuit states.
Lyft on Wednesday said all driver applicants are screened for criminal offenses and must submit to an annual criminal background check by a third-party company, which includes a nationwide sex offender registry search. The company said it also conduct continuous criminal monitoring and that any driver who does not pass the screenings is barred from the platform.
The lawsuit claims that Lyft received nearly 100 complaints of sexual assault in California between 2014 and 2016 (the app was first launched in 2012). It also alleges that Lyft failed to take basic precautions to prevent them — such as background checks, cameras in cars, or panic buttons in the app — and allowed several drivers who had been accused of assault to continue working.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Francisco, is just the latest complaint to be filed against ride-hailing apps Lyft and Uber in recent years, but they don’t typically involve so many women.
Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Mike Bomberger, acknowledged that both Uber and Lyft have sexual assault issues with drivers but said “we found a difference with how Lyft has responded to women when they are assaulted.”