14 women file lawsuit against Lyft after drivers allegedly sexually assaulted them

By Sophie Lewis

/ CBS News

Women sue Lyft over alleged sexual assaults

Fourteen women who said they were raped or sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers are suing the ride-hail company. The suit claims Lyft mishandled their complaints against drivers, in some cases allowing the drivers to continue working following the alleged assaults.

In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Francisco, the anonymous women claim the app does not do enough to stop drivers from assaulting passengers. They allege Lyft fails to adequately perform background checks, does not communicate with victims after they accuse drivers of sexual assault, and does not have adequate technology in place to protect passengers.

"The key to Lyft's business model is getting as many new Lyft drivers on the road as possible. More Lyft drivers and Lyft rides equals more money Lyft makes. Unfortunately, more careful screening and supervision would result in fewer drivers and lower profits," the lawsuit claims.

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"It's becoming more and more apparent that Lyft can't be trusted to police themselves," one of the women said Wednesday at a news conference, CBS San Francisco reported. "Lyft never returned my calls and sent me four emails in a span of nine months, one of which was an automated response."

Press Conference announces the filing of a lawsuit by 14 Lyft rape & sexual assault victims

Lawsuit filed by 14 Lyft rape & sexual assault victims. Attorney Stephen Estey, the law firm of Estey & Bomberger hold a press conference to discuss charges that Lyft concealed sexual assault complaints from both law enforcement and the general public.Details: http://bit.ly/2kuIkAL

Posted by CBS 42 on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The lawsuit claims that, between 2014 and 2016, Lyft received nearly 100 sexual assault complaints against its drivers in California. It alleges that Lyft has been aware of its sexual assault problem for years, but has concealed the issue from both law enforcement and users.

"Lyft has made a concerted effort in the media, in litigation and in criminal cases to hide and conceal the true extent of sexual assaults that occur in their vehicles," the lawsuit says.

In one instance, a young blind woman alleges she was raped by a driver in Alabama after he mocked her and took her cane away. In another, police learned a driver was allowed to drive for Lyft after he was convicted of assault.

"A company truly interested in making vehicles safer would adopt a policy of reporting crimes to police," plaintiffs' attorney Mike Bomberger said. The women are also calling on Lyft to institute more thorough background checks for drivers and require cameras in all cars.

According to Lyft, all driver-applicants are screened for criminal offenses and driving incidents before using the platform. Annual criminal background checks are provided by a third-party company and continuous criminal monitoring is conducted.

"What the victims describe is terrifying and has no place in the Lyft community," Mary Winfield, Lyft's Head of Trust & Safety, said in a statement. "Our commitment is stronger than ever, as we dedicate more resources in our continued effort to ensure our riders and drivers have the safest possible experience."

There have been several high profile cases involving ride-hail drivers this year, including the case of Mackenzie Lueck, a University of Utah student who was found dead after taking a Lyft from the airport to a park in Salt Lake City in June.

Lyft announced new safety measures in May, introducing a "panic button" for riders who need to call 911. Lyft also has a 24/7 support line for emergencies, which its major competitor, Uber, does as well in more than a dozen major cities.

First published on September 5, 2019 / 2:27 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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