Lyft hit with 18 lawsuits over beatings, sexual assaults of drivers and passengers
When Stella Grant lost her job early on in the pandemic, she turned to driving for Lyft to help support herself and her two sons. But a brutal assault at the hands of one of her passengers would mar her life forever.
“That turned out to be the mistake of my life,” she said. “My life changed forever just because of that decision.”
Grant still bears the physical and emotional scars from the attack on Aug. 30, 2021. The woman who got into her car was not the person who had requested the ride, and became irate when Grant tried to verify her identity.
“She quickly began abusing me verbally and physically. She was really violent with me while I was driving and she punched me in the face and back,” Grant said.
When Grant tried to call the police, her assailant forced her way to the front of the vehicle and grabbed the steering wheel.
“I was trying to get control back of my car so we wouldn't crash. I was scared for my life,” Grant said. “She hit me with an object in the face. I started bleeding. Blood was gushing everywhere.”
The assault left her with a scarred lip, chronic back pain and a nagging fear of being attacked again. Grant says she’s too scared to get back on the app. “I'm afraid of being attacked again by a passenger like that. I don't know what I'm going to do to provide for my two boys.”
For attorneys at Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, stories like Grant’s are exceedingly common, for both drivers and riders. They say that despite admitting to persistent safety lapses on its platform, Lyft has done nothing to protect drivers and passengers from beatings, rapes and sexual assaults.
On Wednesday, the firm filed an unprecedented raft of lawsuits across the country that claim the ride-hail giant refuses to adequately monitor rides or require in-car cameras and dash cams to mitigate attacks, and ignores complaints from victims of violence.
“Lyft has a responsibility to protect its passengers and drivers, period. Its refusal to do so has resulted in acts of violence that have left our clients with disabilities, permanent deformities and lifelong trauma,” Peiffer Wolf partner Tracey Cowan told reporters at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “Lyft is not only failing to provide reasonable protection for its users, but even after an assault occurs, Lyft ignores, minimizes or downright stonewalls the victim's efforts to report the incidents and get help.”
Driver Stuart Berman suffered a broken nose and a brain bleed that required two neurosurgeries after being beaten by a drunk passenger. He said he still cannot walk or climb stairs properly. He said Lyft put $750 in his account as compensation, but did nothing else.
Attacks against drivers and passengers are well-known to Lyft, Cowan said, citing a “safety report” the company released in 2021 that revealed 4,158 reports of sexual assaults had occurred during Lyft rides between 2017-2019.
“Predators are still allowed to drive for Lyft,” Cowan said. “There are even forums about how to get laid or get girls' interest during Lyft rides.”
She said Lyft also blocks riders and passengers from obtaining information about their assailants and brushes off reports of attacks with canned responses.
A spokesperson for Lyft did not return an email seeking comment on Wednesday.
Amy Collins, a driver from Napa, said she’s still waiting for justice after she was assaulted by a drunk man she picked up from Stags Leap Winery on March 1, 2020. The man pinned her against the seat with his body weight as he groped her, and when she resisted, he put his hands around her neck and tried to choke her. She said she was paralyzed with fear.
“The only thing I got from Lyft was ‘we're sorry this happened to you.’ I was a new driver for Lyft and I had no idea about my rights,” she said. "I thought I was going to lose my job with Lyft. I didn't know what to do. He was never brought to justice.”
Passenger Katherine Rasta said she is still afraid that the driver who forced himself on her will find her, as he threatened to do after sexually assaulting her and forcibly snooping through her phone.
When she reported the incident to Lyft, she was told the driver’s account would be disabled, but she’s still not sure what ultimately happened to her assailant.
“He’s still out there,” she said, noting that she moved and changed her number, but “I still keep thinking about what he said, that if I said anything that he would come find me.”
Rasta said Lyft’s nonchalance left her broken. "I was already feeling powerless and once I contacted Lyft they treated it like it was an everyday thing. They're like ‘we'll look into it and we'll deactivate his account if necessary.’ They said, ‘we'll get back to you’ and they never got back to me,” Rasta said. “I basically thought wow so this is allowed to happen? And it just broke my heart, broke my spirit.”
Cowan said it is difficult for law enforcement to identify and apprehend violent predators, as Lyft will only turn over information to victims or police if forced to do so by a subpoena or court order.
“The police can't act because Lyft won't give the police information while the person is still at large," she said. “That’s the real problem. Lyft claims it is cooperating with law enforcement because if you send a court order or subpoena they will turn over information. But that's really just a huge obstacle when you have someone at large.”
Grant said this policy has hindered her from getting justice.
“Lyft wanted me to get a court order and I was still struggling to pay my bills from the hospital. I was in a very bad place, and they also wanted me to come up with a fee for a lawyer to come up with a subpoena to get the information I needed to bring my attacker to justice,” she said. “They didn't follow through with me, and they did not care to learn how I feel.”
There have already been a number of lawsuits filed against Lyft in California by passenger victims of sexual assault, so many in fact that they were consolidated into a coordinated proceeding before one judge in San Francisco. Cowan said there have not been as many lawsuits filed by drivers who were sexually assaulted by passengers, though it is “a very common occurrence,” that her firm hears about all the time.
She added that Lyft also requires drivers and passengers to privately arbitrate actions for physical assaults.
“We have no way of knowing how many complaints that have been filed against Lyft for physical assault because Lyft requires drivers to file those complaints in arbitration, which is necessarily a private process that is very infrequently publicized. So there could be hundreds or thousands of those.”
Because of the secrecy of the proceedings, Cowan said the public will never know how many such cases there are, or the outcome.
“How sad that this has happened so many times that there needs to be coordinating proceedings against Lyft,” partner Adam Wolf said. "It’s an epidemic and it needs to stop.”
Wolf said Wednesday marks the first time that so many lawsuits have been filed simultaneously across the country on behalf of both passengers and drivers for physical and sexual assault. A majority of the 18 complaints were filed in San Francisco, the firm said, with one filed in New York, two in Chicago and one in Detroit.
“It unconscionable that Lyft has for years been aware of the problem and has done virtually nothing,” Wolf said. "Sadly, unfortunately, and shockingly, Lyft is on the side of the perpetrators and not the victims.”