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Lyft faces lawsuit that alleges kidnapping at gunpoint and rape

Lyft faces lawsuit that alleges kidnapping at gunpoint and rape
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Lyft is facing another lawsuit pertaining to its handling of alleged sexual assaults at the hands of drivers on its platform. In a suit filed today in the San Francisco Superior Court, Alison Turkos accuses Lyft of 11 counts, including general negligence, vicarious liability for assault with a deadly weapon, sexual assault, sexual battery and breach of contract.

The lawsuit describes how the plaintiff’s Lyft driver allegedly kidnapped her at gunpoint and took her across state lines, where the driver and other men took turns raping her, the lawsuits states.

“Alison remembers the men cheering and high fiving each other as they continued to rape her,” the lawsuit alleges. “Their attack was so brutal that the next day Alison experienced severe vaginal pain and bleeding. Her body was so exhausted from the attack and resulting trauma that Alison could not even leave her bed or raise her arms.”

When the plaintiff reported it to Lyft, the lawsuit alleges Lyft simply apologized for “inconvenience” and gave her a partial refund for the ride. Lyft, however, says the incident was not initially reported as a safety incident, but rather as an indirect route issue. Lyft says it did not become aware of the incident until May 2018, when the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on it.

“What this rider describes is awful, and something no one should have to endure,” a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The unfortunate fact remains that one in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives — behavior that’s unacceptable for our society and on our platform. In this case, the driver passed the New York City TLC’s background check and was permitted to drive.”

The spokesperson added, “We constantly work to improve the platform, which is why we have invested in new features, protocols and policies to protect our riders and drivers. This year alone we’ve launched 14 new safety features — including daily continuous background check monitoring, in-app emergency assistance, and mandatory feedback for any ride rated less than four stars.”

The plaintiff says she reported the crime to the police, who performed a rape kit that found evidence of semen from at least two men on the clothing she wore that night.

The New York Police Department then transferred the case to the FBI, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit states the FBI is now investigating the incident as a human trafficking case. However, Lyft “has been wholly uncooperative” throughout the NYPD and FBI’s investigation, the lawsuit alleges.

In May 2018, Lyft says it received a subpoena from law enforcement and worked with law enforcement for over a year during the investigation.

The lawsuit seeks special damages, including economic restitution to cover past and future hospital expenses, as well as expenses relating to her profession and loss of earning capacity.

“By failing to take reasonable steps to confront the problem of multiple rapes and sexual assaults of LYFT passengers by LYFT drivers, LYFT has acted in conscious disregard of the safety of its passengers,” the lawsuit alleges.

This suit comes just weeks after 14 women filed suit against Lyft alleging the company has not addressed complaints pertaining to sexual assault. Both suits recommended Lyft adopt new policies, such as the addition to the app of a surveillance camera that can record audio and video of all rides.

Meanwhile, Lyft recently announced new safety features, including trip check-ins if a ride seems to be taking longer than it should and in-app 911 calling.

“We’re committed to playing a significant role in connecting our communities with transportation, and we understand the responsibilities that come along with that,” Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer wrote in a blog post. “We’ve known since the beginning that as part of our mission, we must heavily invest in safety. We continue to welcome accountability and partnership to best protect our rider and driver community.”

It’s no coincidence that Lyft announced these safety features in light of the lawsuit on behalf of those 14 women. The company had previously taken some steps to address safety, but at a much slower pace than competitor Uber, which has also faced a number of sexual assault and abuse lawsuits. Between 2014-2018, CNN found 103 Uber drivers who had been accused of sexual assault or abuse of passengers.

Over the years, both companies have taken steps to ramp up their respective safety procedures. In April, Uber launched a campus safety initiative while Lyft implemented continuous background checks and enhanced its identity verification process for drivers. Uber, however, implemented continuous background checks about a full year before Lyft, and added an in-app 911 calling feature more than a year before Lyft.

“We don’t take lightly any instances where someone’s safety is compromised, especially in the rideshare industry, including the allegations of assault in the news last week,” Zimmer said earlier this month in that same blog post. “The reality is that certain populations carry a disproportionate burden simply trying to get to work or back home after a night out — in the U.S., one in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives. The onus is on all of us to learn from any incident, whether it occurs on our platform or not, and then work to help prevent them.”

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