Lyft hit by five more alleged sexual assault, rape cases in one day
Lyft was hit with five more lawsuits on Tuesday by women who allege they were sexually assaulted or raped by drivers on its platform.
Their allegations echo those of other women who’ve recently sued the company: That Lyft has been aware that its drivers were sexually assaulting and raping female passengers for years but has failed to take adequate steps to protect passengers and warn them of the issue. Four of the lawsuits are filed on behalf of named women; one is filed on behalf of a Jane Doe.
The allegations in the new lawsuits range from unwanted sexual advances, to breaking into a rider’s home after a drop-off and groping her, to being kidnapped and gang raped. The alleged incidents occurred between 2017 and 2018.
“What the victims describe is terrifying and has no place in the Lyft community,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement.
Less than two weeks ago, 14 other unnamed women sued Lyft, alleging that the company “chooses to stonewall” law enforcement investigating assaults and that it fails to inform victims about the status of the drivers they’ve accused of sexual assault or rape.
Last week, Lyft issued updates concerning its safety features: Its in-app 911 feature, first announced in May, is available to riders, the company said. It also made two other announcements that are promises for future features: It has partnered with anti-sexual assault nonprofit Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network to create a mandatory safety exercise for driver applicants, and it is planning to add a feature to detect unexpected delays on trips later this year.
The new lawsuits, filed by Levin Simes Abrams, LLP, all allege that “Lyft’s response to this sexual predator crisis amongst Lyft drivers has been appallingly inadequate.”
They also claim that Lyft has inadequate background checks and fails to protect passengers with added technology.
One of the cases, filed by the Jane Doe, claims that a driver pulled down his pants, fondled himself, and pushed the woman’s head down in an attempt to force her mouth on his penis. She reported the incident to Lyft and the police; the police allegedly determined the driver was driving with a stolen license, the suit claims. The police investigation is ongoing.
Meghan McCormick, an attorney at Levin Simes Abrams, LLP, told CNN Business that the firm has filed 18 cases against Lyft, all of which are pending, related to sexual assaults by drivers since August 1, 2019.
The lawsuits are bringing renewed attention to the issue of safety in the ride-hail industry.
While there is no publicly available data on the number of sexual assaults allegedly committed by Uber and Lyft drivers, a 2018 CNN investigation found that at least 103 Uber drivers and 18 Lyft drivers in the United States have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers since 2014.
Two weeks after CNN’s investigation, Uber, followed by Lyft, announced it would do away with a policy that previously forced riders, drivers and employees with sexual assault complaints into arbitration and made them sign non-disclosure agreements. The companies both said they intend to publish safety transparency reports that will put numbers behind sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on its platform. Neither has done so yet.
Since then, Lyft’s US operations have only grown and, at times, the company has benefited from Uber’s very public struggles with its own reputation. In reality, it faces the same issues when it comes to passenger safety. For example, both companies use the same third-party company to perform background checks on drivers, a system that has proven to be insufficient at times.
In one of the new suits, the plaintiff, Alison Turkos, alleges that she ordered a Lyft in Brooklyn to her home in the same borough after a night out, a trip that should have taken about 15 minutes. Instead, the driver allegedly held her at gunpoint, took her across state lines into New Jersey where was he joined by at least two other men, and gang raped her, according to her lawsuit.
Turkos reported the incident to the New York Police Department, and alerted Lyft that she was taken across state lines by a driver despite ordering a ride to take her within Brooklyn. Her case is currently with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the lawsuit said.
Notably, the accused driver was able to change his name within the app after the incident and continue driving for the platform, the lawsuit claims. According to two screenshots, obtained by Turkos and viewed by CNN Business, the driver also appears to have been able to change his photo.
“Lyft was put on notice that [the driver] was a dangerous, armed, sexual predator, yet it nonetheless allowed [the driver] to continue driving for Lyft, even allowing him to change his name on the app, endangering countless other passengers who take Lyft with the expectation of a safe ride home,” the suit filed on behalf of Turkos alleges.
In New York City, ride-hail drivers are required to have Taxi and Limousine Commission licenses, which include finger-print based checks — something ride-hail drivers do not have to undergo in other cities.
Lyft said it has permanently deactivated the driver in question but would not say when.
In a statement about Turkos’ suit, a Lyft spokesperson said: “What this rider describes is awful, and something no one should have to endure. The unfortunate fact remains that 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. In this case, the driver passed the New York City TLC’s background check and was permitted to drive.”
In a statement, Turkos writes: “So to Lyft executives, I say: what happened to me is real. And if it’s so difficult to hear my story, just imagine what it’s been like to live through. I deserve better. Survivors deserve better. Lyft passengers deserve better. And I will not stop fighting until we get what we deserve.”