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Is Uber Legally Responsible for Sexual Assault by Drivers?

— August 15, 2023

It is important to note that while Uber has implemented these safety measures, cases of rideshare sexual assault can still occur.

As Uber and other rideshare services have become a convenient and reliable form of transportation for many people, safety concerns have risen regarding incidents of sexual assault during rides. In recent years, various lawsuits have been filed and questions regarding the legal responsibility of Uber as a company have become increasingly prominent. 

How Common Are Uber Sexual Assault Incidents?

In Uber’s most recent Safety Report which covers 2019 and 2020, Uber received 3,824 reports of the five most severe categories of sexual assault, which range from “non-consensual kissing of a non-sexual body part” to “non-consensual sexual penetration,” or rape. Uber disclosed that 141 cases of rape were reported on its rideshare platform in the United States in 2020. According to data from Uber’s Safety Report, about 91% of the victims of rape were riders and about 7% of the victims were drivers. Of the sexual assault victims, women made up 81% while men comprised about 15%. 

While these numbers may seem significant, it is important to consider in the context of the millions of rides Uber provides during that time frame. Uber gave a total of 650 million rides during the year in which a vast majority of Uber rides did not involve any safety issues or sexual assault incidents. 

The frequency of Uber sexual assault incidents can vary depending on factors such as geographical location, the effectiveness of background checks, driver screening processes, safety policies, and the overall safety awareness of riders and drivers. 

Understanding Uber’s Business Model

Uber’s ride sharing business model relies on drivers who are independent contractors. This means they operate as self-employed individuals rather than traditional employees. As independent contractors, drivers have flexibility in setting their preferred work hours and choosing when and where to provide rides. Uber drivers operate their own vehicles and are responsible for their own expenses, such as fuel and maintenance. Since Uber’s rideshare drivers are independent contractors, Uber is not obligated to provide employee benefits like health insurance, overtime pay, or paid time off.

The classification as independent contractors has been a subject of debate for various reasons such as workers’ rights, tax implications, and legal liability. For example, in cases related to car accidents or assaults involving drivers, the distinction as an independent contractor means the company may be held vicariously liable for damages caused by a driver. 

Legal Responsibility of Rideshare Companies

Determining liability in Uber sexual assault incidents is a complex legal issue that can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of each case. Generally, rideshare companies may be held liable in a few different ways:

  • Vicarious Liability: Also known as imputed liability, this legal doctrine holds employers responsible for the wrongful acts of their employees if the acts occurred within the scope of employment. 
  • Negligence: Rideshare companies may be held liable for negligence if they fail to take reasonable steps to protect their passengers from foreseeable harm. This includes ensuring proper background checks for drivers, implementing safety measures, and responding appropriately to reports of misconduct.
  • Premises Liability: If rideshare companies fail to ensure a safe environment for riders, especially in cases when they had prior knowledge of a potential risk, the company may face premises liability claims.

Uber and other rideshare companies have faced lawsuits related to sexual assault incidents involving their drivers. Depending on the specific circumstances, courts have made various decisions on the outcome of these cases when determining who is liable for the damages caused. Consulting with a qualified attorney to understand your legal rights is an essential step if you have been a victim of a rideshare sexual assault.

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Uber’s Safety Measures

In Uber’s Safety Report, the company highlights the success of several safety measures it has implemented over recent years. In 2018, Uber introduced continuous background checks for drivers, using technology to monitor new criminal offense reports. The report explains that this feature has led to the removal of over 80,000 drivers from Uber’s platform to date.

Some of Uber’s notable safety measures include: 

  • Driver Background Checks: Uber conducts background checks on all potential drivers before they are approved to provide rides. These checks help identify any criminal history that may raise safety concerns.
  • In-App Emergency Assistance: The Uber app includes an emergency assistance feature that allows riders to contact emergency services directly from the app during a ride.
  • Ride Tracking: Uber provides riders with the ability to share their trip status with friends or family in real-time.
  • Driver Ratings and Feedback: After each ride, both riders and drivers can rate and provide feedback on their experience which helps Uber identify and address safety concerns.
  • Anonymized Phone Numbers: To protect the privacy of riders and drivers, Uber anonymizes phone numbers, ensuring personal contact information remains confidential.
  • On-Trip Reporting: Uber allows riders to report safety issues or concerns directly through the app while the trip is ongoing, enabling prompt response to potential incidents.

It is important to note that while Uber has implemented these safety measures, cases of rideshare sexual assault can still occur. While Uber continues to work on improving safety features and collaborating with users to address safety concerns, staying vigilant and aware while using rideshare services is always an important safety precaution to take. 

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