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Lyft sued over alleged sexual assaults by its drivers

The suit involves 14 separate alleged incidents across the US.

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Lyft is being sued by 14 passengers alleging sexual assault by drivers.

Angela Lang/CNET

Lyft is being sued over sexual assaults allegedly committed by the company's drivers. The lawsuit alleges that 14 separate incidents across the US were reported to Lyft and that the ride-hailing company concealed the assault complaints from the public, media and law enforcement. 

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Superior Court of California for San Francisco County, calls Lyft's response to the complaints "appallingly inadequate" and alleges the company hires drivers without completing a background check, fingerprinting them or even performing a job interview. Lyft has also allowed drivers accused of sexual assault to continue working for the company, the suit says.

The suit alleges that there were around 100 reports of sexual assaults by Lyft drivers in California in the one-year period prior to May 2016 and that the actual number of attacks may be triple that, with the bulk going unreported.

Lyft sexual assault allegations
Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/CNET

"What the victims describe is terrifying and has no place in the Lyft community," Mary Winfield, Lyft's head of Trust & Safety, said in an emailed statement. "As a platform committed to providing safe transportation, we hold ourselves to a higher standard by designing products and policies to keep out bad actors, make riders and drivers feel safe, and react quickly if and when an incident does occur."

Winfield added Lyft will "dedicate more resources" to make the service safer. In May, Lyft announced new features for its app aimed at improving passenger safety. The features include yearly background checks on drivers and an in-app button to dial 911Safety features provided by Lyft rival Uber also include a 911 button and annual background checks.

The people behind the lawsuit say further changes could be made to the Lyft app to protect passengers and prevent assaults. 

"Adding automatic audio and video recording to rides would prevent future assaults," attorney Mike Bomberger said in an emailed press release Wednesday from Estey & Bomberger, the law firm that bringing the suit on behalf of the alleged victims. "We believe Lyft knows how many assaults occur within their cars and that is why they don't want Lyft rides recorded."

The lawsuit also suggests adding a system to the app to determine whether a trip has gone off-route, was terminated early or took longer than it should've.

The suit covers 14 separate tort complaints involving negligence, concealment of risks, vicarious liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress, product liability and intentional misrepresentations. 

The plaintiffs come from across the US, including Fresno, Cypress, West Hollywood and Palo Alto, California; Las Vegas; Charlotte, North Charleston and Jacksonville, North Carolina; Salt Lake City; Marlborough, Massachusetts; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Elyria, Ohio; and Chicago and Bellwood, Illinois.

The law firm is asking any sexual assault victims of Lyft and Uber drivers to come forward.

A 2018 investigation by CNN found that more than 120 Uber and Lyft drivers had been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the four years prior to the investigation. States including California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Texas have all previously launched investigations into Uber and Lyft over allegations of failing to screen drivers properly.

San Francisco's Rideshare with Care public awareness campaign, launched in September last year, tells passengers to ensure the license plate of a car matches the plate on their app. In March, a University of South Carolina student was allegedly murdered by a man posing as an Uber driver.

First published Sept. 4 at 2:47 p.m. PT.
Updated at 3:59 p.m.: adds statement from Lyft

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