‘I’m afraid to drive for Lyft because I’m afraid of being attacked’: Lyft sued over alleged assaults on 17 drivers and passengers
By Levi Sumagaysay
Seventeen drivers and passengers are suing the ride-hailing company for failing to protect them, say lawyers and some alleged victims who spoke with reporters
Seventeen Lyft Inc. drivers and passengers announced on Wednesday that they are suing the ride-hailing giant, accusing it of failing to protect them from physical and sexual assault.
Five survivors of physical and sexual assaults spoke at an online press conference Wednesday, where attorneys said the multiple lawsuits against the company at once were a first and necessary because Lyft (LYFT) has “created a national crisis”. The alleged victims, including 12 who have declined to speak publicly, come from nearly a dozen different states across the country.
Stella Grant, a former Lyft driver from Chicago, said she lost her job at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, so she turned to driving for Lyft because she needed to support herself. and those of his two sons.
“It turned out to be the mistake of my life,” she said at the press conference.
Grant said that in August 2021, she was physically assaulted by a passenger who she believed was intoxicated. The passenger hit her on the head and back, then hit her on the lip with an object that left a gash, and Grant said she started bleeding profusely and eventually went to the emergency room. She added that she continued to suffer from back pain, for which her doctor had recommended physical therapy, but she could not afford it.
Grant is now afraid to drive for the carpool platform again, she said, fighting back tears.
“I’m scared to drive for Lyft because I’m scared of being attacked. I can’t bring myself to drive anymore,” Grant said.
According to his arbitration filing, Grant seeks more than $25,000 for financial, physical and emotional damages.
Adam Wolf, attorney for Peiffer Wolf, the San Francisco firm that filed all the lawsuits and arbitration requests, said Lyft has long been aware of the physical and sexual abuse that occurs during rides. “This systemic failure goes to the very heart of how Lyft does business,” Wolf said.
“We are committed to helping keep drivers and passengers safe,” Lyft spokeswoman Gabriela Condarco-Quesada said. “While security incidents on our platform are incredibly rare, we realize that one is too many,” she said, while adding that “well over 99% of Lyft rides are produce without any safety report”.
Condarco-Quesada also said the company conducts “rigorous driver screening” and that drivers can see passenger ratings before accepting a ride, and “have our support to decline rides if they ever feel safe”.
One of the remedies requested by the plaintiffs is for Lyft to require in-car cameras and dash cams. The company should require them and “cameras should be able to work the whole way,” said Tracy Cowan, another attorney for the plaintiffs.
Condarco-Quesada said Lyft leaves the decision to install a dash cam up to individual drivers.
In June of last year, Katherine Rasta said she called a Lyft after a night out with friends in Phoenix. At Wednesday’s press conference, she recounted how she “knew something was wrong” as soon as she got in the car.
The Lyft driver asked her to go to a hotel room to “smoke crystal meth and have sex,” she said. When they stopped at their destination, which was her boyfriend’s house, she said he grabbed her phone and sexually assaulted her. He told her not to tell anyone and reminded her that he knew where she lived.
According to Rasta’s lawsuit filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, “the driver grabbed the plaintiff’s genitals from under her shorts against her will.”
During the press conference, Rasta said: “When I walked into my boyfriend’s apartment, I ran into the bathroom and threw up…Since then I’ve moved into another house and I changed my number. But he’s still there.”
Rasta seeks damages for past and future medical expenses, as well as for lost earnings and earning potential.
Three other drivers spoke at the press conference: Stuart Berman, who said he was physically assaulted in Stamford, Connecticut; Amy Collins, who said she was sexually assaulted in Napa, California; and Erika Garcia-Galicia, who said she was sexually assaulted in Wilmington, Calif.
Berman said a passenger punched him repeatedly in the face and head in September last year, which required two brain surgeries and then physical therapy after a blood clot formed in his abdomen. He said Lyft sent him $750 after he told the company what happened.
“To this day, I am still unable to walk and climb stairs” like before, Berman said. “Mentally, I’m not back to normal yet.”
Condarco-Quesada, Lyft’s spokeswoman, said the company has a group of “safety advocates” who handle such cases. They “work with the driver or passenger to determine their specific needs and provide meaningful support directly to them. This may include financial assistance,” she said.
According to Berman’s arbitration filing, he seeks compensation for his financial, physical, and emotional damages, plus “additional compensation for his damages resulting from Lyft’s unlawful scheme to deprive him of proper remedies by falsely labeling him a independent contractor in violation of relevant state law.”
Lyft views its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, and worker classification is a key regulatory and legal issue for it and other gig companies.
This is the latest gig worker safety issue to make headlines. The Markup recently reported that more than 350 gig workers have been carjacked and 28 killed in the past five years. A report by Gig Workers Rising sheds light on drivers and delivery people who died on the job has caught the attention of lawmakers, who have called on Lyft, rival Uber Technologies Inc. (UBER) and other companies such as DoorDash Inc. (DASH) for information on their handling of the safety of gig workers, as well as how they help the families of those who are killed.
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