Jason Stephens | February 11, 2021 | Sexual Assault
More information comes to light every week about rideshare sexual assaults. Businesses like Uber and Lyft sometimes hire drivers who commit bad acts. The most disturbing part of these stories is the role the companies have played in covering up the assaults.
You can hold the driver who committed the assault responsible in both criminal and civil court. But you will likely have trouble overcoming the legal challenges thrown up by rideshare companies who sponsor these drivers.
Here are some things you should know about rideshare sexual assaults and the liability that arises from them.
Rideshare Sexual Assault Statistics
In 2018, Uber released a report saying it had received 5,981 complaints about sexual assaults over two years. This staggering number averages to over 8 sexual assault complaints per day.
This statistic does not include the other complaints Uber receives. For example, drivers can be accused of:
- Sexual harassment
- Indecent exposure
Over the same period, Lyft was sued by dozens of women who accused the company of jeopardizing their safety. These lawsuits accused Lyft of failing to take adequate steps to protect passengers from sexual assaults by drivers.
Rideshare companies responded that they provided billions of rides during that time. The number of assault complaints amounts to less than one-tenth of one percent of riders.
Sexual assaults committed by rideshare drivers against customers can lead to liability. But to the victims of sexual assault, this provides no comfort. They are likely to experience the effects of their assault for the rest of their lives.
What Is Tort Law?
The area of law that deals with injuries is called tort law. In tort law, a tortfeasor can commit two types of torts:
- Intentional Torts: To prove an intentional tort, you need to prove the tortfeasor intended to commit a tortious act.
- Negligent Torts: To prove a negligent tort, you need to prove the tortfeasor failed to exercise reasonable care. As a result, the tortfeasor caused a foreseeable injury.
The main benefit of suing someone for an intentional tort, if possible, is that you do not need to prove the foreseeability of the injury. Rather, the tortfeasor must pay all your damages, without regard to whether or not the injuries were foreseeable.
The Driver’s Liability
A driver who sexually assaults a customer is liable in civil court for the physical and mental injuries caused by that assault. A prosecutor could also charge the driver with a crime in criminal court. The differences in consequences between civil and criminal liability include:
- Criminal courts can sentence an offender to jail, assess fines, order probation or other supervision, and require registration on a sex offender registry.
- Civil courts can order a defendant to pay damages to the injured person to cover the injuries.
- Civil courts do not have the authority to sentence a defendant to jail.
Criminal courts do not have the authority to order an offender to pay a victim, except to order payment of restitution for property crimes. For example, if a driver were charged with destroying your phone during the assault, the driver could be ordered to pay restitution to you for the value of the phone.
Focusing solely on civil liability, the driver may have committed four intentional torts:
- Assault: Assault occurs when the tortfeasor intentionally undertakes an action that places the victim in imminent apprehension of bodily harm.
- Battery: Battery is an intentional act that results in harmful and unwelcome contact.
- False Imprisonment: False imprisonment occurs when the tortfeasor takes an intentional action to confine someone.
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: A tortfeasor commits an intentional infliction of emotional distress when they intentionally engage in extreme and outrageous conduct that a reasonable person would expect to cause emotional distress.
Proving that a rideshare driver committed at least one of these intentional torts would expose the driver to liability for the assault injuries caused by the driver.
The Rideshare Company’s Liability
Since intentional torts require intent, a rideshare company probably cannot be found liable for the assault. But that does not mean the rideshare company is off the hook. If the rideshare company could have taken reasonable steps to prevent the sexual assault, it may have committed a negligent tort.
To prove negligence, a lawyer must show:
- Duty: A rideshare company must exercise reasonable care to protect the safety of its riders.
- Breach: The rideshare company breaches its duty by failing to take reasonable steps to protect its riders.
- Damages: Your economic and non-economic injuries arising from the sexual assault amount to your damages.
- Causation: The rideshare company’s failure must be a cause-in-fact and a proximate cause of the damages. A cause-in-fact is an event in the causal chain and a proximate cause means the injuries were foreseeable.
The breach could have occurred in a few different ways including:
- Negligent Hiring: The rideshare company failed to make a reasonable effort to screen applicants before hiring them as drivers.
- Negligent Investigation: The driver had other credible accusations of sexual assault and the company failed to reasonably investigate them or covered them up.
- Negligent Retention: The rideshare company knew of other sexual assaults committed by the driver, but failed to fire the driver.
Negligence does not require any proof of the company’s intent. Instead, negligence relies on a “reasonable person” standard. If a reasonable person would have taken steps to protect the company’s riders, the company probably breached its duties.
Damages From a Negligence Claim Against the Rideshare Company
A jury assesses damages against a rideshare company after finding it to be negligent. Some of the damages recoverable in a negligence lawsuit include:
- Medical Expenses: Damages include out-of-pocket payments for medical treatment, mental or physical therapy, and medication to treat the injuries.
- Lost Income: If you were unable to work due to your injuries, your damages can include your lost income.
- Pain and Suffering: The physical and mental pain you experienced from the assault can be quantified and compensated.
Winning a negligence lawsuit against a rideshare company is not easy. But after a sexual assault by a rideshare driver, you might be eligible to seek compensation for your suffering and your recovery.