Uber is facing a lawsuit filed by more than 500 women who allege they were assaulted by drivers, CNBC has reported. The complaint states that "women passengers in multiple states were kidnapped, sexually assaulted, sexually battered, raped, falsely imprisoned, stalked, harassed, or otherwise attacked," by Uber drivers. The San Francisco law firm that filed the suit said it has about 550 clients with at least another 150 claims being investigated.
Earlier this month, Uber released its second safety report showing that sexual assault reports in the five most severe categories fell 38 percent from 5,981 in 2017 and 2018 to 3,824 for the years 2019 and 2020. However, that may be correlated with the COVID-19 pandemic which saw a severe drop in ridership from 2020-2021. "We’re constantly innovating and investing in the safety of our platform," Uber chief legal officer Tony West wrote in the report.
However, the law firm said that safety is not the company's highest priority. "Uber's whole business model is predicated on giving people a safe ride home, but rider safety was never their concern – growth was, at the expense of their passengers' safety," said Slater Slater Schulman LLP founding partner Adam Slater. "While the company has acknowledged this crisis of sexual assault in recent years, its actual response has been slow and inadequate, with horrific consequences."
The law firm criticized Uber for lax policies related to driver background checks and enforcement. It noted that Uber has "opted to hire drivers without fingerprinting them or running their information through FBI databases... [and] has a longstanding policy that it will not report any criminal activity – even assaults and rape – to law-enforcement authorities."
Uber said it can't comment on pending litigation but a spokesperson gave Engadget the following comment: "Sexual assault is a horrific crime and we take every single report seriously. There is nothing more important than safety, which is why Uber has built new safety features, established survivor-centric policies, and been more transparent about serious incidents. While we can’t comment on pending litigation, we will continue to keep safety at the heart of our work."
The company also pointed out recent safety features like the Emergency button and Ride Check feature that checks if a vehicle goes "unusually off-course." It also noted that it checks MVR and criminal offenses at the local, state and federal level and re-screens drivers annually.
Uber has a history of settlements and complaints related to passenger and driver safety. In 2016, The Guardian reported that Uber had paid out $161.9 million in safety-related lawsuits since 2009. In 2017, it faced a class-action lawsuit accusing it of "giving perpetrators of sexual assault, sexual harassment and physical violence access to thousands of 'vulnerable victims' nationwide." And in 2019, the company was sued for $10 million by a woman who was sexual assaulted by an Uber driver, saying the company put her in harm's way.
Update 7/14/2022 10:44 PM ET: The article has been updated to include a comment on the litigation from Uber.