NPR’s Audie Cornish talks with Rachel Abrams, a lawyer representing victims of sexual assault in lawsuits against rideshare company Lyft, which had over 4,000 reports of sexual assault in two years.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: Last night, the rideshare company Lyft released its long-awaited and first-ever safety report. It fielded 4,000 complaints about sexual assault between 2017 and 2019. And this is a moment I want to pause and let you know that this discussion will go into some graphic details. Now, the vast majority of those who reported assaults were women. One who did not want to be identified spoke to NPR in late 2019 and said a driver had raped her months before.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For some of it, I was probably unconscious in the car. But the parts that I remember, I was, you know, trying to bargain with the attacker to please take me back to where I was originally supposed to go.
CORNISH: That woman was represented in a lawsuit against Lyft by a team of attorneys. Rachel Abrams is one of them. Welcome to the program.
RACHEL ABRAMS: Yes, thank you. Pleasure to be here.
CORNISH: Now, this report talked about other kinds of safety incidents, but I want to talk about what Lyft has revealed in this report regarding sexual assault. What are the numbers that we’re seeing? Does any of it surprise you?
ABRAMS: No, it doesn’t surprise us. You know, we’ve been waiting for the safety report for quite some time. Lyft had stated that they were going to release it years ago. We’ve been waiting. And it’s interesting, not quite sure why they waited so long to reveal it. And also, it only goes through, as you pointed out, 2019. What about the last two years? Because nothing has changed since that interview with my client, Jane Doe, since late 2019.
CORNISH: I wanted to ask you about that because in 2019, Lyft said that it would implement changes, including driver education, but more importantly, a notification system to use if riders feel unsafe. Has that yielded a difference?
ABRAMS: You know, the majority of my clients, their phones may have been out of battery. Someone may have called the ride for them, so their phone doesn’t – you don’t have the safety feature because you’re not showing it on a ride. Some of them may be too intoxicated to be able to utilize the phone and that feature. So there’s a vast array of reasons why some of those safety features are really of no consequence in preventing these serious attacks. And what we’ve been saying all along is video and/or audio surveillance that is mandatory in these cars would prevent, you know, the vast majority of these attacks, in our opinion.
CORNISH: What is the state of your lawsuit at this point?
ABRAMS: We are in litigation with Lyft and have been for quite some time. There are hundreds cases – of cases filed currently. They’re all coordinated here in San Francisco. We are in discovery phase right now with trials set for May of next year.
CORNISH: Lyft has said repeatedly that these safety issues account for a fraction of a point of all the rides in that two-year period – right? – in this report. They say even one is too many, but what’s your response to that?
ABRAMS: I think, like you said, even one is too many. And I agree, Lyft does millions of rides across the U.S., but our firm alone represents over a thousand women that have been sexually assaulted. That number to me in and of itself is astronomically high and too many new, regardless of the number of rides, if those could be prevented.
CORNISH: We started to talk about this a little, and I want to hear more about what you think can be done differently. What kinds of changes are you or your clients calling for or believe could change this?
ABRAMS: Well, I alluded to the primary one, which we’ve been saying for quite some time, which is video surveillance. It would protect drivers as well. But if there’s mandatory video surveillance, you know, we believe 90-plus-percent of these attacks would be prevented because they would be on video, they would unable to commit the crimes that they commit. So that would be the main one. Of course, even more driver education. You know, it’s very easy to become a driver for a rideshare company. You click on the app and, you know, upload insurance and you’re done. You work at most places, they’ll give you some sort of a 10-15 question interview to see and assess your psychological background and status. But even a five, 10-minute Zoom interview would probably weed out a lot of potential problem drivers.
CORNISH: Rachel Abrams, one of the attorneys representing victims of sexual assault and lawsuits against Lyft and Uber.Thank you so much for your time.
ABRAMS: Oh, of course. Thank you so much for doing the story.
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