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ride sharing driver on a city street at night

On July 2020, a California woman in her mid-20s and her friend called an Uber driver to pick them up in West Hollywood at about 3:48 a.m. The driver offered them water when he arrived. After drinking it, they passed out. They woke up later in the first young woman’s home and found the front door wide open.

Several months after that ride, the women were called to the Los Angeles Police Department. There, officers showed them videos of the Uber driver sexually assaulting them. The water was allegedly laced with an intoxicant that left the two young women incapacitated and unable to resist or remember the incident. One of the women was so devastated that she took her own life two days later.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. According to Uber’s own data, there were 9,805 reports of sexual assault on Uber rides between 2017 and 2020, including 852 reports of rape. For years, Uber has claimed to be taking steps to make its rides safer, but victims strongly disagree, noting that the company has failed to adequately vet its drivers or to take reports of sexual assault seriously.

Today, over 100 lawsuits concerning claims of sexual assault on Uber rides are pending in consolidated litigation in the Northern District of California, and that number is expected to increase substantially over the coming months.

Chaffin Luhana founder and partner Roopal Luhana was recently appointed Plaintiffs’ Co-Lead Counsel in the litigation, where she will take a leadership position on matters arising during pre-trial proceedings.

Uber Aware of Assault Reports but Failed to Take Action

Uber was founded in 2009 and officially launched in San Francisco in 2011. The company’s services expanded quickly across the U.S. To support and compound that growth, Uber adopted an expedited recruitment method to quickly hire drivers. Plaintiffs claim this process lacked thorough background checks and left riders vulnerable to potentially dangerous sexual assaults.

In 2014, the company started charging riders an extra $1 fee for each trip. Uber called this a “Safe Rides Fee,” but then allegedly failed to earmark the money for improving safety. The company was clearly aware of predatory behavior by some Uber drivers, but plaintiffs allege that Uber didn’t take the situation seriously enough to make meaningful changes.

Instead, Uber has tried to sidestep liability by claiming its drivers are independent contractors. Prior to 2018, Uber also had a mandatory arbitration clause, which required individuals making claims of sexual harassment or assault to settle those claims via private arbitration, shielding the company from exposure. As the number of lawsuits against the company increased, it removed this clause in May 2018.

That same month, Uber also acknowledged the problem of sexual assault and stated it was making important changes to address it. It was another year and a half, however, before the company released its first safety report (December 2019), which revealed that there had been nearly 6,000 sexual assaults recorded on Uber trips in 2017 and 2018.

Chaffin Luhana Fighting for Victims’ Rights

Things got worse for Uber as the years went on and the company allegedly failed to be more aggressive about safety. A 2019 Washington Post investigative piece revealed that Uber maintained a three-strikes policy for its drivers, which resulted in some dangerous drivers being kept on the payroll even after they made sexual advances on riders.

Investigators also discovered that agents responsible for dealing with reports of incidents occurring on Uber rides were coached to act in the company’s interests first, ahead of passenger safety. The agents were also forbidden from routing allegations to police or from advising victims to seek legal counsel or make their own police reports.

In December 2021, Uber agreed to pay a $9 million fine for failing to respond to the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC’s) requests for data on sexual harassment and assault in Uber vehicles.

As of today, Uber still does not require cameras in its vehicles or fingerprinting of drivers, two steps plaintiffs believe would help improve safety. Ms. Luhana and others involved in the litigation are fighting to protect victims’ rights by showing Uber to be liable for its drivers’ actions and recovering significant damages for plaintiffs.

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