OCEANSIDE, Calif. (KGTV) — An Oceanside mother of two says she is still traumatized one-year after a trip to get groceries in a ride-hailing vehicle.
We are protecting her identity because she is an alleged survivor of sexual assault. In November 2020, she says her Lyft driver assaulted her in front of her Oceanside home.
"I was going to get out of the car and he climbed in the back and put his hands down my pants and said he wanted sex. It was surreal and I was terrified and I had never been in a situation like that before in my life. I was screaming and told him to stop and I was calling the cops," she alleges.
She said it didn't stop there, the driver locked her inside his car and sped off down the road.
"He was driving toward the beach and I was yelling."
He slowed down at one point and the woman managed to escape. A warrant for the driver's arrest has been issued by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, but he has not yet been charged.
A Lyft spokesperson released this statement in part to ABC 10News:
As soon as this incident was reported to us, we reached out to the rider to offer our full support, permanently removed the driver from the Lyft community and made contact with law enforcement to assist in their investigation.
The woman's story is one of neary 300 cases against Uber and Lyft San Diego's Estey and Bomberger say it is litigating. Trial attorney Steve Estey, who has numerous national record-setting verdicts will take on Lyft in September in what he says is the first of it's kind trial against the ride-hailing company.
He has filed mass tort lawsuits against both Uber and Lyft.
"The rideshare platform has created a platform for sexual predators," said Stephen Estey of Estey and Bomberger.
Estey will argue the ride-hail company was negligent in numerous ways and failed to protect female passengers from a known danger. The lawsuit alleges "Lyft's response to this sexual predator crisis amongst Lyft drivers has been appalingly inadequate." Similarly, the complaint against Uber argues..."Uber induces young, unaccompanied, intoxicated, or vulerable women to use its product with th expectation of safety, all the whle knowing that sexual abuse of Uber's passengers in prevalent."
"The background check is very minimal and it's not fingerprint based... and the lack of supervision, there are no cameras. They won't do that because they know what it will show," said Estey.
The California Public Utilities Commission regulates ride-hailing companies. It fined Uber $59 million dollars in December 2020 for failing to hand over detailed data about sexual assaults. Ultimately, the case was settled and Uber agreed to pay $9 million dollars in fines.
In their Community Safety Report, Uber reported 5,981 sexual assaults in 2017-2018.
Uber claims it completed more than 2.3 billion trips in 2017-2018. During this time, more than 3 million trips took place each day in the United States. When asked by ABC 10News how many trips were taken by female single passengers, Uber said the data did not exist. Uber claims it did not initially release data to the CPUC because it contained private survivor information.
An Uber spokesperson told ABC 10News in a written statement:
The CPUC wanted the full names and contacts of the reporting party...Uber has taken a survivor-centric approach and will not violate a survivor's right to privacy.
Lyft reported 4,158 sexual assaults from 2017-2019 in its Community Saftey Report.
The assault numbers in the Community Public Safety report only account for 5 out of 21 subcategories of sexual misconduct and sexual assault, with a wide range from flirting to rape.
The reports are voluntarily provided and submitted by the ride-hail companies. Estey says the numbers would likely be far greater if all subcategories were taken into consideration. RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization gave guideance and helped to create the subcatergories, according to an Uber spokesperson.
The 2021 Department of Justice statistics indicate one in three women assaulted do not report, including one of Estey's clients, who claims she was assaulted in San Diego's gaslamp district in 2015.
She claims she was assaulted by an Uber driver who was giving her a ride to the Hilton hotel after a night of partying with friends. We are protecting her identity because she is a survivor of sexual assault.
"I kind of froze, he took my breast out of my bra and started telling me inappropriate things. Then he took the key to my room and followed me up to the room and tried to have sex with me. I didn't think anyone would believe me because I am a bigger girl, but I am hoping this will help other women like me who may be bigger by coming forward. I blamed myself for years over what happened and I know it is not my fault," said the woman.
ABC 10News provided Uber with the woman's ride receipt and account information with Estey's permission. A spokesperson for Uber said:
The details reported by the rider are disturbing. We take these types of reports seriously and began our investigation as soon as we became aware of the allegations.
Uber confirmed with ABC 10News the driver no longer has access to the platform and hasn't had access to the platform for several years.
Estey says women are being assaulted in ride-hailing vehicles at an alarming rate according to the Community PUblic Safety Reports, and most riders are not aware of the true risk they take everytime they enter a ride-hailing vehicle.
"I have daughters and don't let them ride in a rideshare alone and if they are I make sure they have a buddy system in place or they don't ride in the front seat or right rear passenger seat- that tends to be where predators grope so it's a little safer to place yourself behind them," said Estey.
Both ride-hailing companies have engineered and deployed an emergency app that passengers can use if they are in danger.
In May 2022, Uber rolled out a feature that allows passengers to choose female drivers. Both companies developed a series of in-app safety features that allows riders to share their location with family and friends, connect directly with the ride-hail company or 911 to access emergency assistance.
But, Estey says the companies need to do more, starting with cameras in all cars, finger-print background checks, and letting riders know of the risk.
Both Uber and Lyft say they continue to prioritize safety and remain committed to investigating technology and expanding additional safety policies. In 2020, sexual assault and misconduct education was expanded for drivers. Both companies also say drivers are re-screened annually for offenses on a local, state and federal level. Both companies also share data on drivers who are reported for assault or misconduct.
For a link to the Community Safety Reports click here.