In a shocking and deeply troubling incident, a Lyft driver has been accused of raping a passenger, an act that resulted in the birth of a child.
The lawsuit has not only ignited widespread media attention, but has raised complicated legal questions about the accountability of rideshare companies.
The Lyft sexual assault incident
Tabatha Means, a Florida resident, called a Lyft after a night of drinking on April 28, 2019.
Lyft is a rideshare company. Passengers pay Lyft a fee in exchange for passage to their destination. Lyft drivers split the fee with Lyft.
According to the lawsuit, Tabatha was repeatedly and violently raped by her Lyft driver. One month after her Lyft driver allegedly raped her, Tabatha took an at-home pregnancy test and learned that she was pregnant.
The lawsuit alleges that Lyft knew about ongoing sexual assaults and rapes perpetrated by Lyft drivers for years but failed to take appropriate action to prevent further assaults and rapes.
“The night I was raped should have gone very differently if Lyft took the problem seriously and implemented common sense policies,” said Tabatha.
What policies may have prevented the rape? According to the lawsuit, Lyft should have required drivers to install dash cameras, participate in harassment training, and undergo fingerprint background checks.
For its part, Lyft claims that the alleged incident did not take place on the Lyft platform but was in fact a separate trip arranged between the individuals involved.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 36 percent of adults say they have used a rideshare service such as Lyft. By comparison, just 15 percent of Americans said they had used these services in 2015, and 33 percent of Americans hadn’t even heard of these services.
Rideshare company liability
Under respondeat superior laws, an employer is typically held liable for its employee’s negligent actions. There are, however, two significant issues when it comes to suing a rideshare company for an assault conducted by a rideshare driver.
- Intentional acts: Typically, employers are not responsible for their employees' wrongful criminal acts. While an employer might face liability for an employee's negligence, such as in a distracted driving incident leading to a rear-end collision, this liability usually does not extend to deliberate misconduct like sexual assault.
- Independent contractors: In most states, rideshare drivers are classified as independent contractors rather than employees. This classification is significant because the legal principle of respondeat superior, which holds employers accountable for the actions of their employees, does not typically extend to independent contractors.
However, rideshare companies aren’t completely off the hook. If it's demonstrated that the company's inadequate training, insufficient background checks, or similar oversights contributed to an assault, then the company may face legal responsibilities for these actions.
Tabatha Means' lawsuit, for example, included negligent hiring, retention, and supervision claims.
Possible damages in a lawsuit against a rideshare company
Victims in rideshare assault cases can pursue various types of damages, which typically include:
- Economic Damages: These refer to tangible, financial losses incurred due to the incident. For example, medical expenses for treatment of injuries, lost wages due to inability to work, and costs associated with counseling or therapy.
- Noneconomic Damages: These cover intangible losses. Examples include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and trauma resulting from the assault.
- Punitive Damages: Aimed at punishing the offender or deterring similar conduct in the future, these damages are awarded in cases of particularly egregious behavior or gross negligence. For example, if a rideshare company knowingly allowed a driver with a history of violent behavior to continue working without proper checks, punitive damages might be considered.
Tabatha Means’ lawsuit seeks “past and future economic and non-economic damages including physical pain, mental anguish, anxiety, medical expenses, lost earnings, and punitive damages.”
Essential steps for victims of rideshare incidents
If you’re the victim of a rideshare driver’s misconduct, your top priority should be your safety. Once you’re safe, promptly report the incident to both the police and the rideshare company. Additionally, it’s important to seek medical attention, even if the physical harm is not obvious, as this will help create a record of the incident.
In contemplating legal action, engaging with a personal injury attorney promptly is crucial due to statutes of limitation on such cases. Delay can also compromise the case's viability, as evidence may deteriorate and witness memories fade over time. Remember, most personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations, providing a risk-free opportunity to understand your legal options.
Beyond the legal battle, long-term psychological support may be necessary to cope with the trauma. Engaging with support groups and counseling services is an important aspect of the healing process.