As Sexual Assaults in Lyft Vehicles Across the Country Rise, the Illinois Appellate Court Agrees to Review the Constitutionality of the Illinois Rideshare Act

Chicago rideshare injury attorney

By Tim Tomasik

May 22, 2020 - Ride share giant Lyft has grown to prominence in recent years, in part by touting the image of a socially conscious alternative to Uber. Despite its marketing efforts, a 2019 Washington Post article revealed that Lyft’s handling of harassment concerns from its female customers falls short of the “woke” image the company has cultivated.

Tomasik Kotin Kasserman is currently challenging the constitutionality of the Illinois Rideshare Act – which explicitly protects rideshare companies from legal consequences of sexual assaults perpetrated in Lyft vehicles – in the First District Appellate Court of Illinois on behalf of a woman who was violently sexually assaulted by a Lyft driver. On August 1, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court granted the victim’s petition for leave to appeal the constitutionality of the Act.

This disturbing sexual assault is only one example of the hundreds of incidents of assault and harassment happening as a consequence of laissez faire regulation of the rideshare industry. Sadly, this also starkly demonstrates the extremes Lyft will go to to evade legal responsibility. Historically, cab companies have been and continue to be held liable for the criminal acts of their “independent contractor” drivers, but Lyft has executed a well-funded and targeted campaign in legislative houses across the country to craft protectionist legislation.

In fact, Lyft is so acutely aware of the impact of the legal implications of these dangerous attacks, that they warned investors in a recent SEC filing that Lyft’s drivers are independent contractors and that court decisions providing that those drivers are agents and/or employees could harm Lyft’s brand, business, and financial condition. The SEC filings were silent on the devastating psychological and physical impact that assaults occurring in Lyft vehicles have on the victims.

Lyft’s Female Passengers Are Being Attacked and Harassed With Alarming Frequency – and Lyft Knows.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that in May 2020, a former Lyft driver was arrested for the sexual assault of a woman in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. The man picked up a woman outside of a bar, and when the vehicle arrived at her home, she had fallen asleep in the back seat. She awoke to find the driver sexually assaulting her. While the driver denied touching the woman in a sexual manner, prosecutors reported that his DNA was found in her body and on her clothes.

While Lyft has stated that the driver's actions were unacceptable, and he has been banned from working as a driver, this incident is far from isolated. In 2019, a female Lyft passenger was asked by her driver to give him her phone number. The Washington Post reported that the woman, fearing that the situation could escalate if she refused, gave the Lyft driver her number.

After reporting this unprofessional conduct to Lyft, she received this email response: “You have every right to not give your number out to anyone, but the fact that you did limits the consequences on the driver.”

In other words, Lyft blamed a young woman concerned for her safety for attempting to defuse a difficult and uncomfortable interaction. Instead of responding to her complaint by disciplining the driver or conducting an investigation, Lyft cast blame on a concerned female customer without so much as an apology for the harassment that she endured.

Another troubling instance involved a female customer who had a driver ask a series of inappropriate questions, and then suggest that she bear his children and convert to his religion. The Washington Post confirmed that Lyft once again did not discipline the driver or investigate the incident, but merely promised that she would never be paired with that driver again.

This customer was particularly disturbed because Lyft promotes itself as a socially conscious app. Instead, she said, “They’re just another tech company out to get money.”

Women have even described situations in which they felt too threatened to continue the ride and had to leave the vehicle before arriving at their destination. In one such instance, a woman jumped from a Lyft after a driver veered off course after complimenting her looks – she still had to pay for the ride.

Another driver offered a free ride to two women, had them cancel the trip on the app, and covered the navigation map on his phone with a towel. The women became alarmed and asked to get out. One of these victims, a former sexual assault crisis counselor, stated, “This was a guy who was planning to do something; all he needed was opportunity…The idea that he was out there and could have just picked up somebody else was intolerable.”

Lyft users report that the app’s design makes reporting harassment difficult. There is no “panic button” or way for a rider to instantly call for help if they are in danger. Women also reported that it took at least three steps to report a driver’s improper behavior.

Inexplicably, victims are routed to chat apps powered by artificial intelligence and have to jump through several hoops to speak to a real employee.

The Washington Post reports that women from across the U.S. describe Lyft’s response to allegations of sexual harassment as “tone deaf and inadequate.”

Allison Tielking, a Stanford University student who has also been the victim of sexually explicit comments and inappropriate advances, started a social media campaign known as “Take Back the Ride.” The campaign collected stories from over 40 women who faced harassment in Lyfts and Ubers.

Tielking states that Lyft falsely claims that safety is its top priority - in reality, image is what matters. Lyft’s brand is Lyft’s first priority. To truly prioritize safety, Tielking suggests that the company implement an easier system to report harassment, improve its driver training, and be more transparent about how harassment is addressed.

If you have been assaulted or otherwise injured by a Lyft or Uber driver, TKK can help you understand your options for pursuing compensation from a negligent ride-sharing company. Contact us at 312-605-8800 to schedule a free consultation.


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