A woman is suing Uber Technologies Inc. claiming that inadequate background checks and liberal Uber decal distribution led to her rape by a man who said he was an Uber driver.
The woman, referred to as Jane Doe in the complaint, is suing the ridesharing company for negligence and assault, battery and false imprisonment by an ostensible agent. She claims that Uber created the circumstances that led her to believe the man was a driver with the company.
The complaint asserts that Uber nearly single-handedly made the act of hopping into the back of a stranger’s car—previously generally regarded as unsafe—a norm of modern transportation. Uber has billed its services as safe and trustworthy without dedicating the proper resources to back up those claims, according to the complaint written by the Doe’s San Francisco-bases attorneys at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger.
Doe is from Mexico and was visiting her boyfriend in San Mateo County, California, during the time of the assault in August 2018. After asking her boyfriend to call her an Uber from a mall to their nearby hotel, Doe, a non-native English speaker, approached a car with an Uber decal after she thought she heard the driver say her boyfriend’s name, according to the complaint. When Doe got into the car, the driver turned on the child-safety locks, drove to a remote location, and then raped and partially strangled her. The driver has since been arrested by the San Mateo Police Department, according to the complaint.
The plaintiff claims that several months before the assault, the driver was kicked off the app after a passenger complained that he took her off-route, flirted with her and took her to a horse stable “to talk.” Uber did not make any attempt to retrieve the former driver’s Uber decals and did not alert competitor Lyft of his behavior, according to the complaint.
Uber did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The complaint claims “Uber was unable to put the genie it created back in the bottle” after distributing tens of thousands of Uber decals in the Bay Area with no way of tracking or retrieving them.
“Uber has a very poor vetting process that is sort of like a net, where it’s a little too wide and a lot of stuff gets through it,” said Matthew Davis, an attorney with Walkup Melodia who represents Doe. “And they have completely leapfrogged over all safety regulations that were in place in the transportation industry to use a decal system that is completely uncontrolled. You can print out an Uber decal at home. They have effectively changed the public’s attitude to feel like it’s safe to get into a strangers car if they have a decal on the window, and they almost alone are responsible for that shift in attitude.”
Doe’s lawsuit comes after years of reports of assault from Uber drivers and people claiming to work for the company. In April, a Washington, D.C., woman filed a suit against Uber for $10 million in damages after an Uber driver named Raul E. Rodriguez Vasquez sexually assaulted her. Just last week, the Baltimore County Police Department charged Joshua Jamaal Robinson for sexually assaulting his Uber passenger. CNN reported last April that 103 Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or abuse.
Doe is seeking noneconomic and economic damages, costs of suit and attorneys’ fees, pre- and post-judgment interest and punitive and exemplary damages.
Davis said Uber is run by smart, innovative people who can come up with a better verification system.