Can Ride-Sharing Companies Like Uber Be Sued When Their Drivers Sexually Assault Uber Users?

It was party time at Syracuse University last weekend.  (Wait – isn’t every weekend party time at SU?)  Anyway, a female student – one of many — was out imbibing, frolicking, and doing whatever young party-goers do these days, until 3:00 a.m.  Then she needed a ride to her dorm.  She hit an app on her smart phone to hail an Uber.  An Uber driver showed up.  She asked the male driver to take her to her dorm.

The driver had other ideas.  Instead, he took her to an empty parking lot.  He grabbed her and began to force his hand up her skirt. Fortunately, she escaped before the driver could “have his way” with her.

Assume the worst.  Assume the student had been the victim of a full-fledged sexual assault.  Could she successfully sue Uber?

Maybe.  We will soon find out.  Right now, Uber is facing two separate lawsuits in different States brought by women who claim they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers.  It’s interesting to look at the allegations in those suits.

Both suits allege Uber used “negligent hiring” practices (did not screen its drivers carefully enough). Uber’s hiring process appears designed to allow it to hire drivers fast and cheap. Only a basic criminal background check is done, which goes back only seven years.  So if a 35 year-old driver raped a women when he was 27, Uber wouldn’t know.  A more thorough and complete search could be done, but at a greater cost.

The plaintiffs also argue that Uber should have an in-app panic button. Uber deployed this feature in India after a 2014 rape.  Why not deploy it here?   More expensive, of course. Uber would have to hire people to respond to the panic button.

Also, the suits allege, female riders should have the option of demanding only female drivers.

Finally, the lawsuits allege that Uber should require in-car surveillance cameras.

The plaintiffs will have to convince a Court or jury that these extra precautions are reasonable and likely would have prevented the assaults.  Uber will fight these lawsuits like hell to avoid the extra costs.

I’m rooting for the women.  Yes, Uber will suffer some loss of profits, and rides will be a bit more expensive, if Uber is forced to add the extra security measures.  But as the old saying goes, safety first.  Better safe than sorry.

And I believe that in the long run Uber will benefit from these safety features.  More customers — especially women — will feel safe using Uber, which will trigger more frequent Uber use. Business up, assaults down.  It’s a win win.

Think about it, Uber.  You can either pay for these safety measures now or pay to defend expensive lawsuits later. Either way you’re going to pay.  But only one way will save more women from getting raped.  Do the right thing, Uber.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

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Syracuse NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels Bersani Kalabanka


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