Who’s Responsible for Uber Sexual Assaults?

Apr 4, 2024 | Uncategorized

In 2020, ridesharing use plummeted due to pandemic lockdowns. Even still, 1,000 sexual assaults occurred in Uber vehicles, including 141 rapes. Sexual violence has lasting physical and emotional consequences. 

The physical wounds often include serious physical injuries and/or a sexually transmitted disease. The emotional wounds include an inability to form social or professional relationships and, somewhat surprisingly, severe eating disorders. Many victims feel they cannot control their own bodies.

The high number of sexual assaults in 2020 was not a one off. In October 20203, a judicial panel merged more than 10,000 Uber sexual assault lawsuits into a federal district court in California. 

Persistent sexual assaults have been a problem at Uber since the company launched in 2010. Victims who were sexually assaulted during Uber rides eight or ten or more years ago may still partner with a Houston personal injury lawyer and receive compensation for their injuries, thanks to the delayed discovery rule. More on that below.

Responsibility and Civil Claims

Contact sexual assault, like rape, is a serious crime, as is non-contact sexual assault, like false imprisonment (refusing to let a passenger leave a vehicle upon request). The individuals who commit such crimes are individually responsible for their crimes in criminal court. Civil actions focus on responsibility as well, but in a slightly different way. 

Cast members get much of the credit for a successful movie. But the producer organizes the film, gives the actors a platform, sets the stage for a successful movie, and is financially responsible if the movie flops

Employers, like Uber, are much like movie producers. Uber provides the ridesharing platform that sets the stage for serious sexual assaults. As a result, Uber is financially responsible when things go south.

Usually, this responsibility doesn’t end when the negligence statute of limitations, which is normally two years, runs out. Under the discovery rule, victims must only file claims once they know the full extent of their damages and they connect those damages with a tortfeasor’s (negligent actor’s) conduct or misconduct.

The discovery rule looms large in sexual assault cases. SInce the brain conceals traumatic memories, most victims work with therapists for years, or even decades, before they piece together what happened. Only then may they partner with Housotn personal injury lawyers and file legal claims.

A shortcut is available in some states. To encourage sexual assault victims to come forward, many states have modified or eliminated the statute of limitations in sexual assault matters.

Passengers and Uber Negligence

Uber has a legal duty to protect the health and safety of its passengers. This responsibility begins at passenger pickup, continues throughout the ride, and ends at passenger drop off.

The duty of care is based on the story of the Good Samaritan. This man went out of his way to help an injured traveler. Similarly, Uber drivers must go out of their way to help injured passengers.

So, the company has a legal duty to prevent in-ride sexual assaults. Drivers cannot simply look the other way as a contact or non-contact assault occurs. Poor training might be the heart of the matter. Many drivers simply don’t know what to do in these situations.

Additionally, Uber drivers must pick up and drop off passengers at safe and secure locations, not just at convenient locations. Dark and deserted streets aren’t safe locations. Just like they must be mindful of road and traffic conditions, Uber drivers must be mindful of health and safety conditions.

On a side note, if a passenger shows some physical or emotional symptoms of a sexual assault, Uber drivers normally must inquire into the matter and, if necessary, offer these victims assistance, such as providing them with contact information of an agency that can help. Once again, drivers cannot simply turn a blind eye.

Drivers and Uber Negligence

If a driver commits a sexual assault, Uber cannot wash its hands of the matter. Instead, it could be legally responsible for injuries, under one of two theories.

Employers cannot knowingly or recklessly hire incompetent people. Aspiring rideshare operators are clearly incompetent if they have criminal assault records, have been the subject of a civil protective order, or have been dismissed from a previous job because of an altercation with a customer. 

In these cases, negligent hiring might be the issue. Uber knowingly hires incompetent workers if it overlooks or justifies negative information. The company is reckless if it does not ask too many questions during the onboarding process.

Furthermore, even though its drivers are independent contractors in most states, Uber has a duty to supervise them. Negligent supervision is a failure to watch employees or a failure to properly respond to misconduct allegations.

Uber is financially responsible for sexual assaults and other injuries it had the power to prevent. For a confidential consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Houston, contact Williams Hart Boundas Easterby LLP. We routinely handle sexual assault matters on a nationwide basis.

Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only. The provision of this material does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this newsletter are not a substitute for legal counsel. Do not take action in reliance on the contents of this material without seeking the advice of counsel.

The information contained in this blog may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. Accordingly, information in this blog is not promised or guaranteed to be correct or complete, and should not be relied upon as such. Readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.

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