Monday, August 1, 2016

California Uber Passenger Sues After Rape by Driver

A lawsuit was filed on July 21 against Uber by a woman who was reportedly raped by her Uber driver. The incident, which occurred on July 21, 2014, demonstrates that ride share companies, such as Uber and Lyft, may face liability for the actions of their drivers in certain types of situations.

Factual background of the case

On July 21, 2014, the plaintiff called Uber for a ride to her boyfriend's home after she had spent a night out. After she was in the car, the driver offered her a bottle of water, a common practice for Uber drivers. She accepted, and that was reportedly the last thing she remembered before she woke up the next day. Instead of waking at her boyfriend's home, she instead awoke in her own bed with no memory of how she came to be there. She was also nude, and there was a used condom on her nightstand. The woman contacted law enforcement, who performed DNA testing on the semen contained in the condom, comparing it with the DNA of the Uber driver. It matched, and the man was arrested and charged with assault with the intent to commit rape and rape of a person who was unconscious. The man later pleaded guilty to criminal sexual battery and was sentenced to six months in jail. He is now required to register as a sex offender. In the woman's lawsuit, she is alleging that Uber was negligent in performing an inadequate background check on its driver.

California law and background checks

Under current California law, ride share services, including Uber and Lyft, are required to perform background checks on their drivers. The background checks are not as comprehensive or stringent as those required of taxi drivers, something that taxi drivers have been angry about. Taxi companies are required to perform fingerprint background checks, while ride-share companies are only required to go back 7 years without performing fingerprint searches. A new proposed law in California, AB 1289, would require background checks that are much more intensive than the 7-year required checks. The law would require ride-sharing services to perform comprehensive background checks, including checks with federal, state and local records. Checking federal records requires fingerprint checks, so while the proposed law doesn't specifically require fingerprints, the requirement for federal checks would necessitate them anyway.

Potential civil liability by the imposition of a duty of care on Uber

One caveat of the legal requirement for background checks in California is the possible imposition of a duty of care on the ride share companies to conduct thorough and comprehensive background checks on their drivers. This would mean that if the company's background check is inadequate, and the driver then rapes or assaults a passenger, the company may be held to be liable for its negligence in failing to complete its duty. In most cases, an employer or principal will not be held to be liable for criminal acts committed by its agents, unless the act was reasonably foreseeable. While criminal acts are generally not reasonably foreseeable, it could be argued that an action could be deemed as such if a comprehensive background check had been performed. For example, if a comprehensive background check would have revealed that a driver had the propensity to commit sex offenses, but the check that was performed did not show the prior offenses, then the ride-share company may be found to be liable because of its negligence in the performance of its duty of care.

Contact an attorney

If you or a loved one has been assaulted by an Uber or Lyft driver, you may want to consult with a personal injury attorney to learn whether or not you have grounds for a civil lawsuit. An attorney may be able to review the facts and the law in order to make a legal determination about the winnability of your case. Contact a Los Angeles personal injury attorney to learn more about your rights.