In December, Uber released a report on the safety of its passengers and drivers in 2017 and 2018. In that report, Uber acknowledged 5,981 incidents of sexual assault, including 464 reports of rape. Unfortunately, that number is probably an undercount, as many victims may not report their experiences to Uber.
Now, one woman is filing suit against Uber after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by an Uber driver in 2018. She’s also suing the driver. She alleges sexual assault by the driver and negligence by Uber. She is seeking $1,025,000 in damages.
According to the lawsuit, the woman got into an Uber in January 2018. The back doors were both locked, forcing her to sit in the front seat. There, the driver made sexual remarks, including that he wanted to “take her home” with him. He then sexually assaulted her.
The lawsuit claims the woman then told her boyfriend, underwent a forensic sexual assault examination, and reported the assault to Uber and the police.
The driver was charged with four counts of sexual assault but was acquitted. That does not mean the woman is barred from recovering money damages in the lawsuit. This is because the standard of proof is different in lawsuits than in criminal trials.
In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove her case by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the weight of the evidence shows her claim to be true. This is a significantly lower standard of proof.
Generally, people may file lawsuits against those who perpetrate criminal acts against them. When it comes to any potential liability by Uber, that will depend on what actions the company took or should have taken when it brought this driver aboard.
When an employee commits a criminal act during the course of their duties, the employer can sometimes be held liable under the theory “respondeat superior.” That basically means that a company is responsible for the acts of its agents. However, courts typically won’t hold companies liable for the criminal acts of their agents unless they knew or should have known that the agent was likely to commit such an act.
This is complicated by the fact that Uber drivers have been classified as independent contractors rather than employees. The theory of respondeat superior generally does not apply to independent contactors. Here, the woman will have to show that Uber had a duty to perform a background check of take other steps to prevent this driver from assaulting the public. She will also have to show that Uber breached that duty and that the breach caused her damages.