By Levi Sumagaysay
Seventeen Lyft Inc. drivers and passengers announced Wednesday that they are suing the ride-hailing giant, accusing it of failing to protect them from physical and sexual assault.
Five physical- and sexual-assault survivors spoke Wednesday at an online news conference, where attorneys said this many lawsuits against the company at the same time was a first, and necessary, because Lyft /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT -0.86% has “created a national crisis.” The alleged victims, including 12 who did not want to speak publicly, come from nearly a dozen different states across the nation.
Stella Grant, a former Lyft driver from Chicago, said she lost her job early during the coronavirus pandemic so she turned to driving for Lyft because she needed to support herself and her two sons.
“It turned out to be the mistake of my life,” she said during the news conference.
Grant said that in August 2021, she was physically assaulted by a passenger whom she said was intoxicated. The passenger punched her in the head and back, then hit her in the lip with an object that caused a gash, and Grant said she started bleeding profusely and eventually went to the emergency room. She added that she continues to suffer from back pain, for which her doctor has recommended physical therapy, but she cannot afford it.
Grant is now afraid to drive for the ride-hailing platform again, she said, holding back tears.
“I’m scared to drive for Lyft because I’m scared to be attacked. I can’t bring myself to drive anymore,” Grant said.
According to her arbitration filing, Grant is seeking more than $25,000 for financial, physical and emotional damages.
Adam Wolf, a lawyer for Peiffer Wolf, the San Francisco firm that filed all the lawsuits and arbitration claims, said Lyft has known about physical and sexual abuse happening during rides for a long time. “This systemic failure cuts to the very core of how Lyft does business,” Wolf said.
“We’re committed to helping keep drivers and riders safe,” Lyft spokeswoman Gabriela Condarco-Quesada said. “While safety incidents on our platform are incredibly rare, we realize that even one is too many,” she said, while adding that “well over 99% of Lyft rides occur without any safety report at all.”
Condarco-Quesada also said the company does “rigorous screening of drivers” and that drivers can see riders’ ratings before accepting a ride, and “have our support to decline rides if they ever feel unsafe.”
One of the remedies the plaintiffs are calling for is for Lyft to require in-car cameras and dash cams. The company should require them and “cameras should be operable for the entire ride,” said Tracy Cowan, another attorney for the plaintiffs.
Condarco-Quesada said Lyft leaves the decision to install a dash cam up to each driver.
In June of last year, Katherine Rasta said she called for a Lyft after a night out with friends in Phoenix. During the news conference Wednesday, she recounted how she “knew something was wrong” as soon as she got into the car.
The Lyft driver asked her to go to a hotel room to “smoke crystal meth and have sex,” she said. When they pulled up to her destination, which was her boyfriend’s house, she said he grabbed her phone and proceeded to sexually assault her. He told her not to tell anyone and reminded her he knew where she lived.
According to Rasta’s lawsuit filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, “the driver grabbed Plaintiff’s genitals under her shorts against her will.”
At the news conference, Rasta said: “When I got into my boyfriend’s apartment, I ran into bathroom and threw up… Since then, I moved into a different house, and changed my number. But he’s still out there.”