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Lyft sued by 20 more women who allege sexual assault by its drivers

At least 55 women have now filed or joined lawsuits against the ride-hailing service, alleging it hasn't done enough to protect passengers from predators.

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Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against Lyft over sexual assault allegations.

Angela Lang/CNET

The number of women alleging Lyft hasn't done enough to stop sexual assaults by its drivers is growing. Twenty more women joined together in a lawsuit Wednesday, alleging they were assaulted, kidnapped and raped while using the company's ride-hailing service. That means at least 55 women have either filed or joined lawsuits against Lyft since August. 

"There is a corporate culture at Lyft that refuses to fix a known sexual assault problem," said attorney Mike Bomberger, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the 20 women. "This sends a message to drivers that there is no accountability for sexual assaults."

The suit was filed Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court. Bomberger, who's with the firm Estey and Bomberger, is also representing 14 other women in a separate suit against Lyft. Another lawyer, Rachel Abrams of Levin Simes Abrams, has additionally filed 19 suits against Lyft over similar allegations. And at least two other individual lawsuits have been filed in New York and California. 

Bomberger said he's filing an additional suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of Cheyenne Gutierrez, a disabled 23-year-old who alleges she was sexually assaulted by her Lyft driver in May.

The victims' lawyers say Lyft hasn't done enough to protect riders from sexual assault and that perpetrators are drawn to Lyft to prey on vulnerable women. The lawsuits assert that Lyft does substandard background checks on drivers and often doesn't deactivate them from the platform after sexual assault allegations. The lawsuits also allege that Lyft tends to stonewall victims, ignoring, dismissing or downplaying their assertions.

For its part, Lyft says it's focusing on safety. John Zimmer, the ride-hailing company's president, published a blog post in September titled "Reinforcing our commitment to safety." He said Lyft rolled out several new safety features over the last year, including continuous background checks and an emergency 911 button in the app. Lyft has also just initiated a mandatory "community safety education" course for all drivers. 

"What these women describe is something no one should ever have to endure," a Lyft spokeswoman said in an email. "Everyone deserves the ability to move about the world safely, yet women still face disproportionate risks. We recognize these risks, which is why we are relentless in our work to build safety into every aspect of our work."

She said nearly one in five Lyft employees "have been dedicated to initiatives that strengthen the platform's safety." She added that "our work on safety is never done, and we will continue to invest in new features, protocols, and policies to ensure Lyft is the safest form of transportation for our riders and drivers."

After Uber, Lyft is the second-largest ride-hailing service in the country. The 7-year-old company says it has more than 2 million drivers and 30 million riders throughout the US and Canada. With operations in all 50 states, it coordinates millions of rides every day. 

Lyft and Uber haven't released data on how many assaults are linked to their drivers, and they've declined to say how many sexual assault lawsuits have been filed against them. But according to lawyers representing victims, the numbers are steep. 

Bomberger said he's representing more than 100 women and gets at least three calls a day from people who say they were assaulted by ride-hail drivers. And Abrams said her firm is now representing more than 70 women who say they've been sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers. 

"We know, based on the calls we get, the numbers are in the thousands," Bomberger said at a press conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. "This isn't in the hundreds, this is in the several thousands."

Both Abrams and Bomberger said they get as many, if not more, calls about women allegedly attacked by Uber drivers. But, they said, Uber has a better record of working with the victims and therefore faces fewer lawsuits.

Uber has also added several safety features to its app over the past couple of years. Earlier this month, the company announced it will soon let US riders and drivers opt-in to audio record their rides -- something it's already piloted in Brazil and Mexico. This is a feature sexual assault victims and their advocates have long asked for.

Uber didn't return request for comment.

New allegations

The women in the new lawsuit detail incidents that often took place late at night and in which drinking was involved. Oftentimes they said they fell asleep in the back seat of the car only to find their Lyft driver on top of them. The reported incidents occurred in 13 states, including California, Georgia, Utah and Tennessee. Eight of the alleged assaults occurred after Bomberger's last suit against Lyft in September. 

One woman, named Jane Roe 2 in the lawsuit, was at the press conference. She quietly described what happened to her late one night in February. She lives in Massachusetts and had ordered a Lyft home after getting drinks with a friend. She said she dozed off in the back seat and awoke to the driver raping her.

"During the rape, I immediately froze," Jane Roe 2 said. But then, "I decided that I had to fight for my life."

She said she hit and kicked the driver and tried to escape the vehicle. The two tumbled out of the car and the driver jumped into the front seat slamming the door behind him. But Jane Roe 2's arm was caught in the door and he drove off dragging her along the ground. Finally, she got away.

Jane Roe 2 crawled to a nearby house to ask for help, according to court documents. The resident called the police as Jane Roe 2 sobbed on the front porch. The police arrived and took Jane Roe 2 to do a rape kit. According to the court documents, the driver was located, charged with the rape -- to which he pled guilty -- and was sentenced to prison.

"I was left bruised, beaten and emotionally scarred," Jane Roe 2 said. "Lyft gave him the opportunity to do this to me."

Many of the women in the lawsuit say they went to drastic measures to stop the drivers from the alleged attacks. One women said she told the driver she had HIV, another said she urinated in the back seat to get the driver to stop. Another woman, who also spoke at the press conference, said she begged the driver to let her retrieve her asthma inhaler to buy time until the police showed up.

In many of these incidents, the women said Lyft never informed them whether it had removed the drivers from the platform. Because of that, they said they still live in fear. At the press conference, the women said they no longer use Lyft and discourage others from using the service, particularly if they're alone and it's late at night.

Originally published Dec. 4, 10:40 a.m. PT.
Correction, 11:23 a.m.: Lawyers corrected their statement to say that 20 more women joined together in a lawsuit, not 21. 
Update, 12:22 p.m.: Adds comment from Lyft spokeswoman. 
Update, 2:29 p.m.: Adds additional background information.